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To celebrate National Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month in November, Vision Maker Media will present “CommUNITY: Returning Home Through Togetherness,” an event featuring a film program and panel discussion commemorating Native American and Alaska Native veterans.
Native Americans and Alaska Natives continue to serve in the armed forces at a higher ratio per their demographic. According to the Department of Defense, out of 1.2 million men and women in active duty in the U.S. military today, more than 23,000 of them are Native American and Alaska Native.
“Returning Home Through Togetherness” is part of Vision Maker’s 45th anniversary and yearlong theme celebrating community. It will be available to the public through Nov. 24 for free online. PBS and the Cherokee Nation Film Office are sponsors of the 45th anniversary events.
The event will feature a short four-part documentary series, “Under the Battle Tipi: The Kiowa Black Leggings Warrior Society.” The Kiowa Black Leggings Warrior Society is a 20th century revival of the Ton-Kon-Gah, one of several military societies active among the Kiowa in the 19th century.
For generations, warriors and veterans have held one of the most respected places in the culture of the Kiowa tribe of Oklahoma. In 1958, a group of Kiowa veterans reactivated the ancient Ton-Kon-Gah to recognize the current military service of community members. The organization has prospered over the last 50 years and has become a revered and integral part of traditional Kiowa life.
In the series, producer Charles “Boots” Kennedye (Kiowa) interviews respected Kiowa leaders. Veteran interviewees include Blas Preciado, a Vietnam veteran who found healing among Kiowa veterans; Darwin Palmer, who served two tours in Vietnam and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for valor; Vanessa Jennings, who danced at the ceremony honronig her uncle, George Mopope, who joined the military at age 15 (with his family’s permission) and fought in Korea; and Lowelle “Skeex” Russell, who was part of an M-1 tank crew during Operation Desert Storm.
On Nov. 11, Vison Maker Media will present a virtual panel, “Returning Home Through Togetherness: What Does it Mean to Be a Warrior,” at 6 p.m. The panel will include four Native men and women military veterans who are members of their warrior societies. As society members, they will discuss the roles and responsibilities as providers and defenders of their tribe, community and culture.
In November, we share stories about warriors, boarding school children, loss and death,” says VMM Executive Director Francene Blythe-Lewis (Diné, Sisseton Wahpeton and Eastern Cherokee). “As warriors, the fight to safeguard and return home keeps us persevering. As children, when removed from the home—whether through boarding school or foster care forced removals—the memory of home keeps us hopeful that we will reunite someday. For the missing and departed, we pray for their return. Home is in our spirit and returning home through togetherness remains the hope.”
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