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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 16, 2002 - Issue 74


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S.D. Vet to Perform Lakota Ceremony at Vietnam Wall Memorial

by Terry Woster Argus Leader
Vietnam MemorialPIERRE, SD - Francis Whitebird, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and former combat medic, will perform a Lakota centering ceremony as part of the 20-year anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on Thursday.

Whitebird, chairman of Lakota studies at Lower Brule Community College, said he was asked to perform the ceremony to open the observances that mark two decades from the time the wall was unveiled on the mall in Washington, D.C.

"This is a ceremony where a person centers himself or herself with positive values," Whitebird said. "When the ceremony is complete, the person should be at peace with himself, the people around him, the environment and the Creator. Many war veterans are affected by their experiences in different ways, and this is a Lakota way to help them."

Whitebird headed the office of Indian Affairs under the late Gov. George Mickelson. He's a graduate of South Dakota State University with a master's degree in education from Harvard University.

Lakota is his first language, and he offers instructions in the language. He served two tours in Vietnam with Charlie Company, 2nd battalion, 1st Infantry regiment of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade.

"That's a lot of units, but every person who served in Vietnam is extremely proud of his units," Whitebird said.

The Vietnam wall contains 58,229 names. Whitebird said he was in Europe when the wall was dedicated 20 years ago, but in 1984 he was asked to do a Lakota prayer at the dedication of the three fighting men, a sculpture that stands near the wall. He did a similar ceremony later when a sculpture was dedicated to honor women who served in the war.

"I decided at that time to do the centering ceremony, as a way to try to help bring peace to some of the veterans," he said.

In a 1986 oral history by central South Dakota Vietnam veterans, Whitebird said he used his sacred pipe during the 1984 ceremony, but only after much thought.

"The reason Indian people smoke it is because they have to be at peace with themselves before they can communicate with somebody else, with another human being," he said then. "You have to let your guard down and be basically honest and open, not having any double meaning to your words."

At the 1984 ceremony, Whitebird said, he felt that the people who had been involved in the Vietnam war were finding peace within themselves.

"They were not quarreling or denying, blaming each other," he said. "They were finally recognizing that something happened, and they did a good job. There's nothing wrong with that."

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