Faces in the crowd

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Zachary Young
  • Native American heritage Month Committee
The Native American culture is one that is unique in its own way. Being Native American myself and raised in not only a region but a home where my culture and history played a part in my life is a prominent factor in who I am today.

When I'm asked what it means to be Native American, I reply that it means the blood running through my veins comes from a determined, proud, and strong lineage. Many of my ancestors fought and died to protect what was theirs. Even though we were not possessive and did not think this land belonged to anyone, we fought to keep it sacred and to preserve it. We didn't kill for sport, we killed for survival.

Everything we planted or killed served a purpose and nothing was wasted. Everyone wants to conserve energy; the first people to go "green" were Native Americans.

I'm proud of my heritage and of where I come from. I always remember to be proud of who I am. Native Americans are the only people in the United States who don't need to travel to go to their homeland - we're already there.

While writing this, I found it difficult to incorporate the story of two members of Hanscom who are also of Native American descent.

The difficulty was that Paul Pollard is deeply rooted in his heritage, being raised in the way of the traditional Native American. Tina Whitby's knowledge of her culture came from her own research as an adult. To better understand their story, I think it is best to let them tell it.

Paul R. Pollard III

What is the identity of a Native American raised in the cultural beliefs of spirituality and long standing traditions passed on verbally from generation-to-generation but working in the same world as everyone else? Many know little about this very different way of viewing life and what it means to be a modern day Native American. In fact, if you sat next to me or worked with me, would you even know how different I am and if so how? I don't look any different from you and I probably sound just like you but words like respect, honor and tradition hold a much deeper place in my everyday life than I believe is true for most people.

In 2009, I began working in Contracting here. I received my bachelor's degree in in Anthropology from Franklin Peirce College and later graduating from UMass School of Law in 2007.

I am the proud father of my five year old son, Alexander, and my 2 year old daughter, Lilyanna. I have been married nearly 11 years to my wife Danielle.

My background is unique and diverse; my grandmother was a full-blooded Malecite Native American. As early as I can remember my grandmother spent time teaching me about our culture and history. This included discussions about my heritage, my religion and she even taught me how to sing, drum, dance and do crafts. Her house always smelled of sage and sweet grass which was burned daily to help bless and cleanse the house -- the four sacred medicines are sage, sweet grass, cedar and tobacco. This has provided me with a very unique perspective through which I view the world and allows me to be incredibly open to new ideas and philosophies.

I remember my father and grandmother bringing me to Rivier De Loup in Canada many times a year growing up. Among the other things I went to was the annual Malecite conference which included grand Chief elections and other tribal business which my father and grandmother were heavily involved in. I also visited areas such as the Penobscot area of Northern Maine to Big Cove on the west side of Canada for traditional ceremonies such as shake tents, sweat lodges, pow-wows, healing ceremonies and even burial ceremonies, including that of my own grandmother.

It was during this time I began to learn to drum. I learned to dance, both traditional and fancy, around age five and this eventually grew to be a large part of my weekends.

In high school after I moved in with my father, I began to get more involved. We attended pow-wows regularly as vendors selling everything from jewelry made of real bone and glass bead chokers, necklaces and earrings, to ribbon shirts and kid play-drums.

Then, my father bought me my first drum. We tanned the deer hide and strung it ourselves. I began to join in with playing drums from all nations but seemed to really enjoy the Micmac music which was resurging at that time due to the release of traditional voices from the eastern door. The CD included stories of the history of the Micmac people along with new songs handed down by the creator to those who still spoke the original language. Today I know more than 60 songs, many of which are Micmac or Wabanaki and sung in the language as opposed to many western songs which are more chants due to bans on using their traditional language in the 1800's. Of these that I know, about 20 are intertribal, come from other tribes and are commonly sung at pow-wows throughout the country.

As my children grow, I aspire to pass along as much as I can. My greatest fear is that without the strong roots provided to me by my grandmother and father, much will be lost. To help avoid this, I will continue to attend ceremonies, pow-wows and other events to help insure that not just the next generation but many more generations will benefit from the hard work my family has put into educating me about the Native American way of life.

Tina Whitby

For much of my life, I have been just another face in the crowd searching for my heritage and a place to belong. I grew up in a home where my father rarely spoke of the Irish culture his surname implied. His darker skin, dark hair and brown eyes were a striking contrast to my fair skin, red hair and blue eyes. Perhaps it was my father's coloring which inspired my fascination with the Native American stories, art, history and culture.

In high school, some friends with very close ties to their local tribe understood my desire to connect with my heritage and find community and admired my interest in Native American culture. Their kind words were laced with harsh reminders there could never truly be a place in the Native American community for someone who looked like me. Despite their words, and the ample evidence of the Irish blood running in my family, I could never quite shake the feeling that somehow there was far more to my family story.

Growing up I didn't know my father and his brother were born to a Lumbee father and a Lumbee and Irish mother. The boys, adopted by their Irish stepfather as children, were discouraged from speaking about their past. It wasn't until I was an adult that my father's adoption and true heritage came to light. Since then, all I know about my Lumbee heritage has come from internet research, books and stories of my cousin's visit with tribal members.

The Lumbee are present day descendants of the Cheraw Tribe. They are one of the largest tribes in North Carolina, the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River and the ninth largest in the nation.

There are several theories regarding the origin of the Lumbee. Each includes a story of different people coming together to form one community, one family. Perhaps the most intriguing theory involves the lost colony of Roanoke. It is said that colonists of Roanoke survived by joining together with the Croatan people, eventually forming the Lumbee Tribe. This may explain why to this day, there are many Lumbee with fair skin and red hair; people just like me.

The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina is represented by a medicine wheel divided into four quadrants. The quadrants colored red, yellow, black and white represent the four seasons of life: birth, growth, maturity and death as well as the four seasons of nature: spring, summer, fall and winter. The wheel is surrounded by a pinecone patchwork symbolizing the pride, power and will of the Lumbee Tribe.

Lumbee people are proud and patriotic. The tribal government mirrors that of the United States and includes an executive branch led by the Tribal Chairman, a legislative branch comprised of 21 council members representing 14 districts, a judicial branch and a tribal constitution. Lumbee have honorably served in the armed forces since the Revolutionary War.

My limited contact with extended family has left me with much more to learn about this culture. Through these events, my children and I have been able to discover what it means to be a Native American and take pride in our heritage. While my story may be far from over, I now feel as if the missing pages have been restored and I am honored to have the opportunity to share it. I know there are many more out there with similar stories. I hope they find the connection, family and history I have been blessed to find.

Native American Heritage Month events have helped me embrace my story.