From Reservation To Air Force Intelligence
by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. AJ Hyatt
December 7, 2022
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 reservation.
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 reservation.”
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 Community website.
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.”
Despite the 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 person.”
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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