White Mountain Apache Native American Marine
by U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Karis Mattingly
November 26, 2021
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.
Approximately 15,000 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 educational opportunities.
"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.
“If I 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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