“Presenting the colors” at Pow Wows has been a tradition for veterans across Native America for many generations. I’ve watched veterans from the Vietnam War, the Korean War, WWII and other war campaigns in between, post the colors at community Pow Wows on Pine Ridge reservation since I was a little girl. I remember seeing the pride and honor on their faces as they made their way into the arena and in the way they carried themselves. They were brave, courageous and they were heroes. The little girl in me was inspired.
While scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook one day, I saw an all-female veterans’ group for the first time – I was in awe and blown away. The thought of women veterans coming together and lifting one another, inspired me yet again. I would be remiss if I failed to describe the kind of connectedness I am referring to. There is a sisterhood among veterans cultivated from trust, love, empathy and deep understanding. It comes from sharing similar experiences and recognizing that, at certain moments, all we have is one another. My own experience of sisterhood began with my biological sisters, who have been patient and kind with helping me learn, as I grew up on Pine Ridge reservation. The bond I share with my birth sisters nurtures an unwavering love and empathy for one another that is unbreakable. I sensed this same empowerment and bond among women veterans groups, and I secretly wanted to be a part of that experience.
The first time I met members of the Lakota Women Warriors was at the Black Hills Pow Wow in Rapid City, SD in October 2018. At that time, I was a member of an all-male Veterans group presenting the colors at this Pow Wow. I was on my way out of the arena, after a grand entry, when I ran into members from the Lakota Women Warriors. After a short interaction, I immediately felt their love, respect and support. I was invited to join, and I couldn’t believe it! I was humbled and honored that this dream of mine was coming true.
Over the President’s Day Holiday, February 15-17, 2019 in Seminole country in Florida, I experienced my first event with this amazing group of women. The Lakota Women Warriors were invited to the 81st Brighton Field Days on the Brighton Indian Reservation in Florida. The Seminoles treat their military veterans with great reverence. An entire building commemorates the tribal members who have sacrificed for and served this country in the military. We were treated with much respect and kindness. I met talented performers and dancers from other tribes across the U.S., South America and Canada. I will cherish forever, the friendships I made from this trip.
Throughout the weekend, we experienced random acts of kindness and friendliness which made the weekend feel blessed. Some of these acts were obvious and others were quiet, nonetheless all were very meaningful. One morning, we were walking quickly with our flags to get to the parade on time. As we were walking, I heard a man holler, “Hey girls! Hey, hey, I want to sing you a veteran’s song. Is that ok?” I turned to look and I saw him running toward us. He was out of breath and we all responded with, “Yes.” I assumed he would find us later for the song, when suddenly he removed his hat from his head, and cleared his throat and began singing as we walked together towards the parade. His song was beautiful, and the frantic feelings inside me subsided. I began to hear the birds singing, I noticed the calm blue sky, and even though we were walking by the rodeo arena with the stench of manure strong in the air, I did not mind it. The moment became sweeter. I saw a beautiful, caring man, and strong wonderful women around me. I felt happy and peaceful. The entire weekend was filled with special moments like this – my cousins and their kids drove eight hours to see me, I met amazing people throughout the weekend who were filled with hopeful and purposeful energy, and the Seminole Tribe were amazing hosts. The Lakota Women Warriors are full of patience, love, kindness, generosity and humility – it is at the forefront of all they do. We came together to represent our nation, our tribes, communities and families, and we represented them well. The day after I flew home, I woke up inspired, at peace, and excited for my future with this group.
On behalf of the Lakota Women Warriors, wopila eciya (We extend a deep gratitude!) to the Seminole Nation for your kindness, love, generosity and hospitality. You are amazing people! I am humbled to have experienced your celebrations and honored by your invitation.
At a time when I prayed for them to come into my life, the Lakota Women Warriors arrived, with open hearts and minds, and they took me in. During my first event with them, I learned so much, I felt so much, and I am grateful and happy to be a part of this amazing group. These women have had, and currently have challenges and obstacles in their lives – they work hard to persevere and overcome. Their stories are amazing and inspirational. As I sit to write about my experiences with them, I am deeply moved by each one of them. They are my heroes, and the little girl in me remains inspired.
“Love recognizes no barriers, it jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Maya Angelou
Tasina Tokala Win (Standing up front with her shawl woman)
Captain, U.S. Army