From Reservation To Air Force Intelligence
by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. AJ Hyatt
At a young age, most children in the
Sokaogon Chippewa Community receive their Anishinaabe “original
person” name. However, this didn’t happen for Walter Panick. It
wasn’t until days prior to him leaving for Air Force Basic Military
Training that an elder from another community presented him his
name, Ni-Sag-Wen, which means “down river, downstream”.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Walter Panick,
36th Intelligence Squadron Signals Intelligence Training
non-commissioned officer-in-charge, recalls receiving his
Anishinaabe name as the biggest influence of who he is today.
November 22, 2022 - U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Walter Panick, 36th Intelligence Squadron Signals Intelligence Training non-commissioned officer-in-charge
at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia grew up in the Sokaogon Chippewa Community Mole Lake Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, which is in Nashville, Wisconsin. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. AJ Hyatt)
“Ni-Sag-Wen [down river, downstream] means
the protector of all those under him,” said Panick. “Because of my
name, the experiences I have lived through, it has been my goal to
live up to it and help excel and protect Airmen around me.”
Panick, who has been in the Air Force for almost five years,
currently creates and instructs signals intelligence (SIGINT)
training for the 36 IS in two mission areas: target systems analysis
and intermediate target development. This training is primarily
designed for SIGINT Airmen to be able to produce SIGINT related
remarks in their respective mission areas.
“Mainly, I joined
the military to serve something greater than myself and to make my
people proud,” Panick said. “I’ve always wanted to serve and
represent my people on a greater scale.”
But his job now is
vastly different to how he grew up.
Panick grew up in the
Sokaogon Chippewa Community Mole Lake Band of Lake Superior
Chippewa, which is in the Town of Nashville, in Forest County,
Wisconsin. The reservation is southwest of the city of Crandon.
There is currently approximately 500 tribal members that live on
the reservation, with an additional 1,000 members living off the
According to the Sokaogon Chippewa Community
website, Sokaogon means "Post in the Lake" people, because of a
spiritual significance of a post, possibly the remains of a
petrified tree, that stood in nearby Post Lake. The Sokaogon
Chippewa Community is also known as the Lost Tribe because the legal
title to the 12-mile square reservation from the treaty of 1854 was
lost in a shipwreck on Lake Superior.
“The Mole Lake
Community has many different aspects to it, but it’s extremely
interconnected,” Panick said. “Family is an integral aspect of the
community. Growing up, everyone is your family – whether it’s by
blood or not.”
Growing up on a reservation is a completely
different experience and the only culture that Panick was exposed to
until he left for BMT. At BMT, Panick would meet people he never
thought he would meet in his life, but he cherished learning about
their stories and what they believe in.
“There was around 300
total people [when I grew up in the community] – so everyone knew
each other,” Panick said. “The holidays, ceremonies and everything
in between are very LARGE gatherings of family and friends – and
that to me was honestly the best part about living on the
Between times of ceremonies and powwow season,
the Sokaogon Chippewa Community typically spends time hunting and
gathering. During the spawning season (early Spring), the community
would go spear fishing.
“At the end of Fall, we have
Manoomin (wild rice) season, where we spend months gathering the
rice and using it in ceremonies and different food,” said Panick.
Family clans migrated from eastern Canada to Madeline Island a
thousand years ago, led by a vision that their journey would end in
a land where the "food grows on water" - Manoomin. The Sokaogon
Chippewa Community's journey ended here in this area of abundant
wild rice. The annual harvest of wild rice, an essential part of the
tribe’s diet, has altered very little in the hundreds of years that
the Community has lived there, according to the Sokaogon Chippewa
Panick’s mother and father still live on
the reservation, and he constantly reaches back out to tribal
leaders and program leaders to see how he can help or have his
inputs utilized by his people back home.
However, like most
Native Americans, during his adolescent years, Panick experienced
being treated differently because of his culture. He was often
viewed as not intelligent or competent compared to other students
around him. But his culture taught him at a very young age what it
meant to be an overall good person, show respect, and to do things
greater than yourself.
“The largest challenge most of the
indigenous children deal with growing up is discrimination, no
matter how small,” Panick said. “Whether it’s vulgar names,
misconceptions, or anything else of the sort.”
issues, Panick has chosen to be a positive role model, represent his
people and stay committed to serving something greater than himself.
“I used to harbor a lot of anger because of it
[challenges/mistreatment],” Panick said. “Growing up and figuring
out how to control my emotions – I have become a much more patient
November is Native American Heritage Month, or as it
is commonly referred to, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage
Month. During this month, it is a time to celebrate rich and diverse
cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important
contributions of Native people.
“I can talk about my culture
and history any time of the year, but Native American Heritage Month
is an outlet for me to able to truly communicate with so many people
about who I am, the history of my people and the beliefs we hold,”
said Panick. “The most important thing I want people to remember is
that Indigenous people/Native Americans are still here. We didn’t
disappear. We are still around doing great things, practicing our
beliefs, and thriving in any environment we are thrown in.”
Currently in Panick’s family, there are only a couple who joined the
military ... a cousin and himself. He has taken the time to talk and
mentor many Native American youth from many different tribes.
Whether it’s the military or school, Panick has helped guide many
youth to strive for greatness.
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