Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Tribe In The Media: Mohegans Talk To Sailors

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This installment of The Tribe In The Media is an article in the Groton Submarine Base's Dolphin newspaper that chronicles a visit to the base this November by Mohegan Indians.

Mohegan tribe and SUBASE Sailors celebrate heritage
By Navy New London Public Affairs
The Dolphin
November 26, 2008

GROTON, Conn. - The enduring attributes of Native American Heritage were highlighted and celebrated last Thursday, as Naval Submarine Base New London marked Native American Heritage Month with a special presentation at Dealey Center Theater.
"American Indians understand service and sacrifice," said Bob Soper, Chairman of the Council of Elders of the Mohegan Tribe.

Soper and a number of fellow elders and tribe members, including the Mohegan Honor Guard and the Unity of Nations drum group, joined base commanding officer, Capt. Mark Ginda, in the multi-faceted celebration. Tribal history, Mohegan songs and drumming, personal accounts, and sea stories all combined to elaborate on Soper's statement and provide perspective on the month.

"Native Americans represent a greater percentage within the Armed Forces than any other ethnic group," said Soper.

Recounting his own service in the Army National Guard, Soper noted that members of the Mohegan Tribe had long been defenders of freedom and served the Nation through the military.

Elder Stephanie Fielding spoke of her grandfather's service in the Navy. His assignment to Hawaii placed Fielding's grandmother and Fielding's mother, as a young child, at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Fielding's grandmother served as a volunteer ambulance driver for two days following the Japanese attack of that day.

Elder Marie Pineault spoke of Chief Harold Albert Tantaquidgeon who was tribe chief from 1952-1970. Tantaquidgeon was a three war veteran and served in World War I, World War II, and the Korean conflict. He was awarded the Purple Heart for being injured in combat after being shot down over New Guinea during the Second World War.

The Mohegan's long history of service in defense of the Nation can be traced to the tribe's first chief or "Sachem" Uncas, according to Medicine Woman Melissa Zobel.

Uncas led the Mohegans, or "Wolf People," in splitting from the Pequot Indians and Sachem Sassacus, who favored conflict with early European settlers in the 1600's.

"Uncas taught all in the tribe that cooperation is as important as tradition," said Zobel.

Uncas befriended the European invaders and forged an alliance on behalf of the tribe's well being and security. That alliance, as Zobel relayed, would ultimately require the Mohegans to help the English defeat the Pequots as well as continue to fight along side their English allies through a number of European as well as Indian conflicts. Through it all, while other Native American nations were lost, the Mohegans endured.

"He was someone who had a very definite vision of security for his people in very difficult times," said Zobel. "He's probably the single greatest hero in Mohegan history."

Such Native American heroism is what Ginda highlighted in the Navy tradition of a captivating sea story.

Ginda spoke of the gallant action of Fletcher-class destroyer, USS Johnston (DD 557), during the Battle off Samar, a part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf during the Second World War.

Johnston's Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Ernest E. Evans, was of Cherokee Indian descent and born in Pawnee, Oklahoma. His heroism in leading his ship and crew in attacks on a greatly superior Japanese battleship and cruiser force materially contributed to the Navy's victory in the battle, and was recognized with his posthumous award of the Medal of Honor.

"These are the men and women and this is the heritage that we celebrate today," said Ginda. "It should make all us proud to serve."

In a touching conclusion to the afternoon's event, members of the Mohegan tribe passed out certificates of appreciation to attending Sailors, acknowledging their service and sacrifice.

"Tawbutni, Thank you," said Soper in Mohegan and English. "May the Creator keep you safe."

Note: Not all of the members of the Mohegan Color Guard were invited to the event.