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Rhythm of Life
by Army Staff Sgt. Anna Doo - November 30, 2011

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CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo (11/26/2011) - The rhythmic beating of a drum accompanied by a strong voice singing in a native tongue filled the gym on Camp Bondsteel Nov. 24 as the Native American dance group called Yellowbird Indian Dancers performed for the soldiers and civilians stationed here.

The Native American dance group called Yellowbird Indian Dancers graced Camp Bondsteel with their program on Nov. 24, 2011 featuring social ceremonial dances from numerous Indian tribes. Yellowbird travels around the world sharing their traditional native stories, songs and dances. In addition to the performance, Native American soldiers serving on Kosovo Forces 14 prepared fry bread, soups, beans and other traditional dishes. Photo by Army Staff Sgt. Anna Doo
The Native American dance group called Yellowbird Indian Dancers graced Camp Bondsteel with their program on Nov. 24, 2011 featuring social ceremonial dances from numerous Indian tribes. Yellowbird travels around the world sharing their traditional native stories, songs and dances. In addition to the performance, Native American soldiers serving on Kosovo Forces 14 prepared fry bread, soups, beans and other traditional dishes. Photo by Army Staff Sgt. Anna Doo

This is the second time Yellowbird has traveled to Kosovo to share their culture with troops deployed as part of the NATO-led peacekeeping force termed Kosovo Forces. They are a family of dancers who have been performing for more than 25 years and travel the world working through the U.S. State Department sharing their traditional native stories, songs and dances.

Ken Duncan, Sr., Doreen Duncan, Ken Duncan, Jr., David Brush, Gya Watson and Brooke Canyon presented their cultural roots through ceremonial song, dance and costumes that sang their own tune alongside their wearers. Canyon's purple hued dress was adorned with five rows of bells that sang out with each step she took. The fringe sewn on Watson's dress kept rhythm with her feet as she performed the Bow and Arrow dance.

One of the performances offered the crowd of soldiers an opportunity to participate in a Round Dance linking hands and moving to the beat in a circle.

1st. Lt. Winston Holyan from Tohatchi, N.M., currently serving as the 126th Military Police commander as part of KFOR14 and a member of the Navajo nation, said, “There's actually a name given to it [the Round Dance], it's called inter-tribal. It's something that anyone can do. You don't have to have a TM [technical manual] or an FM [field manual] or instructions. What the messages are in that Round Dance are about friendship, holding hands, bonding.”

Doreen said the dances performed for the troops were all social dances able to be shared with anyone wanting to watch. Some of the ceremonial dances, such as one marking a coming of age, are only done for the tribal membership she said.

“We opened our program with the flag song to honor the American flag,” Doreen said. “The second song was a victory song and it was done to honor all of the military past and present. We also did an honor song for the individuals that are Native Americans who are part of this camp. The Apache Bow and Arrow dance; when he is singing that song, he is asking for the safe return of all of our military.”

The military service of Native Americans has a long history as Ken pointed out. In the Apache Bow and Arrow song, he mentions the four last battles; World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf which includes the current conflicts. Doreen echoed his comments about why they perform for soldiers stateside and around the world.

“I think it's very important for non-natives to know that as native people we really have a great respect and honor for all military,” she said. “We show that through our songs and through our dances. To let people know that even though we represent less than 1% of the population, we contribute a lot to the military.”

Holyan said there are over 500 different tribal groups in the Americas and that at times it is hard for him to remember there are so many. He went on to say that in New Mexico there are 22 groups and Arizona has the same number. By Yellowbird visiting and sharing the Native American culture, Holyan said it reminded him of how strong the traditions are. “I thought it was great that they came. It's a good reminder that our people are still around and have been for eons.”

The gracefulness of each of the dances invoked imagery of the natural world that is all around. Through the Apache Rainbow dance offering thanks after a life-giving rain shower to the Grass dance. The Honor song performed by Ken Jr. adorned with wings of eagle feathers also symbolized the raw earth as the underlying theme throughout.

Holyan said that even though there are so many tribes and as many traditions, a common thread throughout Native American culture is the respect for the earth, land and nature. Methods of celebrating where each human originates from differ from one group to another, but it is also a common reason for why Native Americans enlist in military service. Holyan said there is not necessarily a stronger theme than patriotism, but the ancient ties to the soil and literally the land is one they are willing to fight for.

The guests watching and listening to the performance by Yellowbird were taken on a journey consisting of sight, sound and taste. Spc. Terrie Charlie, KFOR14 and a member of the Navajo tribe from Coyote Canyon, N.M., cooked piles of light, flaky, hot fry bread. Some of her fellow Native American service members also made traditional beans, posole, red and green chile, and other stews for everyone to taste.

The military is a melting pot of peoples and cultures of the U.S. When individual traditions and customs are shared, this serves to broaden the horizons of those willing to participate in the cultural exchange. A sense of pride in their heritage was evident on the faces of the Native Americans serving on KFOR14 and the number of participants in attendance speaks to the willingness of soldiers to engage in and learn about their fellow soldiers to their left and right.

More photos available below

By Army Staff Sgt. Anna Doo
200th Public Affairs Detachment
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2011

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