White Mountain Apache Native American Marine
by U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Karis Mattingly
He left home. He said goodbye to his family
and friends. Not once, but twice.
He uprooted his life to pursue an
opportunity that was of greater importance than his comfortable and
familiar lifestyle. For three years, U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl.
Hunter Barber pondered the thought of leaving his reservation for a
more diverse education.
Then at the age of 20, he decided to join
the military as a way to carry on his heritage.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Hunter Barber, a combat graphics specialist with Communication Strategy and Operations, Combat Logistics Regiment 37, 3rd Marine Logistics Group on Camp Foster Okinawa, Japan, November 5, 2021. Barber is a White Mountain Apache tribal member who grew up on the Fort Apache reservation in Arizona. "Resilient and Enduring: We Are Native People" is the November 2021 theme to honor the past and present Native American Marines who continue to pave the way for future generations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Karis Mattingly)
"My tribe, we're a warrior tribe
traditionally speaking," said Barber. "Joining the military was a
way I could carry on that heritage, and it is something that I'm
very proud of. One of the other reasons I joined was the similarity
to the Marine Corps warrior ethos."
Barber, a combat graphics
specialist with Communication Strategy and Operations, 3d Marine
Logistics Group, is a White Mountain Apache tribal member who grew
up on the Fort Apache reservation in Arizona.
His story is
shared in appreciation of Native American Heritage Month. "Resilient
and Enduring: We Are Native People" is the November 2021 theme to
honor past and present Native American Marines who continue to pave
the way for future generations. It is a time to honor the cultures
representing our nation's Native American Heritage. As business
owners, artists, teachers, writers, courageous members of our Armed
Forces, and so many more, their contributions to our society are
cause for celebration and appreciation by all Americans.
Through the eyes of a child growing up on the reservation, he
explains that life was full of companionship and love.
"(Life) is a lot different on the reservation compared to mainstream
American culture," Barber said. "It was like a big family there
between everybody. We were all near each other, and there was a lot
of trust between us."
Every morning, he woke up around 6:00
a.m. to help with the livestock and the agriculture. After working
in the sun he walked back into his home to talk with his dad. Barber
explains that throughout the rest of his day he visited neighbors
and looked after children as his parents were busy working. He
continued to say that life on the reservation was free-flowing with
minimal, strict structure except for when they had school; much
different than American childhood’s.
White Mountain Apache Tribal members live on the Fort Apache
Reservation, where the economy is based on tourism, forestry, and
ranching. The land is known for its agriculture and wildlife
habitats. It is also home to the Apache Trout, a once endangered
species that was brought back due to the efforts of the tribe and
other partners. Additionally, they are known for their Trophy Bull
Elk worldwide hunting program.
"On the reservation, you
always have people there for you, no matter what," said Barber.
"Despite, you know, the hard times or any hardships that you would
go through, people are always looking out for you, and you're always
looking out for them."
This is what life was like for Barber
on the reservation up until he was 12 years old when Barber decided
to move to Tennessee. Up until Barber was 12 years old he lived on
the reservation with his father. However, at the age of 14 he
decided to move to Tennessee to live with his mother for better
"It was very hard making my
decision to move to Tennessee," said Barber. "I probably sat on that
idea for about three years, just going back and forth on whether or
not to stay in Arizona or go to Tennessee. Eventually, I decided to
move which was a very, very tough decision in my life. It was
probably one of the toughest, but it was worth it in the end because
I wouldn't be where I am now without it."
The culture shock
of the differing environments was all but easy for the middle
schooler. Barber continues describing the contrast between the
environment on and off the reservation.
"When I moved off
the reservation and went to high school, it was completely
different," he said. "Nobody knows who you are, and nobody cares who
you are. So I felt kind of ... I felt really alone. It was hard for
me to make friends at first because I didn't know how to talk to
people. I didn't know how to make friends like that because as a
baby I grew up with my friends on the reservation. It was almost
like a first-time thing for me and it was very strange, but
eventually you just catch on a little bit."
It was a
completely new domain, he explains. It was unlike the reservation
where he could walk up to any individual and maintain a fully
attentive conversation. While in Tennessee, he had to learn a new
set of social cues he was unaccustomed to and it was a challenge. It
took years for him to truly understand and recognize that other kids
in school did not want to talk in that manner. Regardless of any
hardship, Barber does not let go of those experiences that molded
him into the Marine he is today.
"I think everybody's proud
of who they are and the heritage that they were brought up in; I'm
no different," said Barber. "I take pride in my culture. I am part
of a heritage and there's so little of us left, so I don't want to
lose those cultural aspects. I think it's essential to hold on to
your past. By doing so it has made me a better person. Those
upbringings made me who I am, and I eventually want to pass that on
to the children I have one day."
Barber explains that as a
Marine he tries to uphold the values and dedication of a warrior
tribal member. During the events like the annual combat fitness test
and physical fitness test he keeps that mindset running through the
back of his head. In-and-out of work Barber explains that he holds a
higher standard for himself through fitness and creativity.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Hunter Barber, a combat graphics specialist with Communication Strategy and Operations, Combat Logistics Regiment 37, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, creates a graphic on Camp Kinser, Okinawa, Japan, Nov. 4, 2021. Barber is a White Mountain Apache tribal member who grew up on the Fort Apache reservation in Arizona. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Karis Mattingly)
As a Marine, Barber uses his background and
heritage to create versatile products as a combat graphic specialist
for units across Okinawa. Initially, with Marine Corps Installation
Pacific, Barber brought his unique point of view to Combat Logistics
Regiment 37, 3rd MLG, creating products like logo designs, posters,
pamphlets and business cards. He explains that his job requires
individuals with different perspectives. If everybody has the same
mindset, very similar mainstream graphics may be created. Graphics
design is an art form combining text pictures to communicate a
message to every individual seeing the product. Therefore, it is
imperative to have alternating perspectives and see with diverse
lenses to create and share the best possible products.
get a chance to visit the reservation I would share my stories as a
Marine,” he said with a smile. “I would tell them how I joined the
Marine Corps to try and carry on our tradition. I think they would
be very intrigued and excited. I think they would be proud.”/p>
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