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Paying tribute to heritage rich in culture

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kathy Locklear
  • 43rd Airlift Wing
November has arrived and it is time again to celebrate American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. This observance originated in 1915 when the Congress of American Indian Associations' President issued a proclamation declaring the second Saturday in May each year as American Indian Day. The first American Indian Day was celebrated in May 1916 in New York. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed a joint congressional resolution designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month. This is a very special time of year to my family and me since it gives us the opportunity to recognize the contributions of our ancestors and the culture of the American Indian people.

Although I am of Lumbee and Cherokee descent, my upbringing was not that of a traditional Native American family. We did, however, share some similarities such as our belief in a higher power, alternate medical practices, living off the land and the roles of the mother and father in the home.

My first memory of ever being seen by a doctor was at 17 years old, due to my mother's strong faith in God's ability to handle the problem. When we were sick, the first thing she would do is kneel by our bedside and pray. Sometimes she would use home remedies to relieve our aches and pains. In 1989, she was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live - but through God's grace and mercy she recovered and we were blessed to have her with us until May 2006.

During the summers we worked hard planting food for the winter. We grew corn, peas, butter beans, collards, potatoes and tomatoes. A few families would help gather the food to prepare it for storage by freezing or canning it. In the fall we would slaughter hogs for ham, pork chops, sausage and pork skins. The food would be divided between all the families, since each had an average of 11 children to feed.

My father was the sole provider for the family. He was a share cropper when my older siblings came along, then began working in the mills when I was a child. He took pride in making sure his family never went without food, clothing and a loving home. Although my mother never held a public job, she worked non-stop raising seven boys and five girls and making sure my father always had a hot meal at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

My life may not seem like the ideal life of a child, but I was truly blessed to have parents who loved me and wanted to take care of me. We definitely weren't rich in money but all they taught us made us the people we are today and that is priceless. My beliefs, traditions and values are things that I hold dear and I will continue to uphold and celebrate them all year long - not just during the month of November.