By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Chris Cavagnaro, USS George Washington Public Affairs
WATERS SOUTH OF JAPAN – Sailors aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) celebrated Native American Heritage Month on the ship’s mess decks during a ceremony hosted by the ship’s multicultural committee, Nov. 24.
The ceremony highlighted more than 200 years of American Indian and Alaska native service to the U.S. Navy and military.
“It’s important for us to not only recognize Native American Heritage Month, but all cultural heritage events,” said Lt. j.g. Cole Yoos, a chaplain aboard George Washington. “As we think about our Navy, it’s the diversity and everyone coming together as a team that make us so strong. These events help us celebrate the diversity in aboard our ship and throughout the Navy.”
This year’s theme of celebrating native pride and spirit yesterday, today and forever encouraged all crew members to reflect on Native American impacts throughout U.S. history.
According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, there are currently more than 15,000 Sailors and 1,280 civilians of Native American and Alaska native heritage serving in or working in direct support of the U.S. Navy.
“For natives, serving in the military has always been a noble and honored tradition,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Fuel) Airman Recruit Johnathan Hernandez, the key note speaker, from San Carlos, Ariz. “More than 44,000 Indians served in World War II, and during the Pacific campaign, Navajo code talkers transmitted secret messages in their own language, saving countless lives. It’s important that we take days like today to recognize all the groups of Native Americans that contributed to the U.S.”
According to the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are 4.5 million American Indian and Alaska natives among 565 federally recognized tribes, which represent 1.5 percent of the nation’s population.
According to Hernandez, Native Americans have served in key roles through every major U.S. military engagement both on land and at sea. Native American seamen served on continental and state vessels during the War of Independence, and 20,000 Native Americans contributed to both Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War as auxiliary troops.
“Not a lot of people are familiar with Native American history, so being able to scratch the surface and talk about the proud histories of our tribes means a lot to me,” said Interior Communications Electrician Seaman Meghan Kennedy, the event’s master of ceremonies, from Johnsburg, Ill. “You open people’s eyes to things they never thought about with celebrations like this and give a little back story into Native American history.”