Perhaps it is because our ancient societies were organized with a special
place for warriors or maybe it is because so many of our young men join
the Armed Forces. Whatever the reason Indian Veterans are highly honored
in the Native American communities of Oklahoma. Tribal elders know that
men coming home from combat have special needs.
This was particularly meaningful to returning Indian Veterans during the
Viet Nam war. Some Vets may have disembarked in San Francisco from a year
of hard fighting only to met by shouting protesters. They watched T.V. as
their comrades-in-arms were spit upon and disrespected in public. Veterans
felt let down by the people they had sacrificed so much for and that
feeling has yet to heal in many hearts. Homecoming Viet Nam vets ditched
their uniforms as quickly as possible and sought to hide their service.
For Indian Veterans the homecoming was different, they knew their people
would honor them as returning heroes. Just as they have done for all the
veterans of American Wars since 1776. Indian vets wanted to be seen in
uniform and most often proudly wore them home on the plane and bus to the
reservation. Each Oklahoma Tribe has a Veterans society which welcomes
returning vets into their membership. Here on the Ponca reservation
veterans functions are performed by Buffalo Post 38 of the American Legion
and their Auxiliary. Buffalo Post 38 was the first all-Indian American
Legion Post in the Nation.
When a Ponca comes home from war his (or her)> family puts on a "Soldier
Dance" as an expression of their pride. They invite all the people to come
to the dance, with a special invitation to all Tribal Veterans. A large
Indian style feast is prepared and all the relatives begin to gather items
for the formal "give-away" in the Veterans honor. A Head Singer is invited
by the family, he is an honored man who knows the proper He-thus'-ka
warrior society songs to sing for the occasion. Others are selected to
fill the positions of Head Man Dancer and Head Woman Dancer. Veterans
Societies from other Tribes are invited to attend and Post 38 is asked to
post the colors.
On the night of the "Soldier Dance" the returning vet is honored all night
long with special songs, blankets given to him or to others on his
behalf. Speeches from elders and veterans talk of their own service and
thank him for his. An elder veteran fans him with a feather from the
Golden Eagle and proclaims his honorable service for all to hear. It is a
day which the proud Veteran, his family and his proud Ponca people will
remember forever and will forever bring him honor within his Tribe. At
the end he is asked to lead a dance while all his family and friends
gather in a group to dance behind him.
The important thing is the warrior and his place in the Tribal circle and
it had nothing to do with the politics of the war itself. He was
recognized as an individual who had been absent from his accustomed place
in the Circle to go to war, a young man sent by his elders into danger.
On behalf of his people he had risked himself and taken on wounds which
must heal. Our people have recognized for many generations the wounds in
the soul of a young warrior, which happen when life is taken in war, must
be healed before he can resume his life. A welcome by Ponca warriors who
have been there begins the healing and the "Soldier Dance" begins his
return to the Tribe.