By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - Chippewa Cree tribal leaders honored more than 30 local people on active duty in the military with traditional singing, dancing and prayer on Monday.
About 150 people - most of them family members of the soldiers - attended the luncheon at Rocky Boy High School, which was held at the request of tribal chair Alvin Windy Boy Sr.
"It's always good to see our community get together," Windy Boy told the group. "When one of our people chooses to serve, he or she chooses to take challenges, and sacrifices to protect their country. What we don't say is the sacrifice their families go through."
The other members of the tribal council also attended.
The event began with a traditional prayer ceremony, in which about 15 tribal members knelt with bowed heads and passed a pipe.
"This goes way back to our warrior days," Don Meyers said before the ceremony, adding that American Indians traditionally get together and pray for their soldiers during wars.
"We're praying for our young people that are going through this conflict overseas," said Meyers, a World War II veteran. "We know it's sad for us, but we're trying to defend our place. All we're doing is hoping for (their) safe return."
The flag ceremony, accompanied by music from the Young Cree Nations Singers, was led by Meyers, commander of the Chippewa Cree Tribal Warrior Society.
Following Meyers was a warrior in traditional regalia adorned with elaborate beadwork and a headdress, carrying a ceremonial staff. After them came the American flag, and then the Canadian and Montana flag side by side.
"For over 510 years, as indigenous people, we have been defending this continent, and now 510 years later we're still doing it," emcee Voyd St. Pierre told the group.
Pierre then called each of the service members by name, and their families came forward to receive a plaque from Windy Boy and tribal vice chair Bruce Sunchild. The 30-plus people honored are either enrolled members of the tribe or have family members who are.
The families lined up at the front of the stage, and by the end, they stretched across the gym and halfway down the sides.
"You can see we have a large, large contingency from Rocky Boy that are serving in the United States military," St. Pierre told the group.
The distribution of the plaques was followed by an honor song, and most of the family members formed a line and danced.
The song was a prayer asking "for us to be watched over, for our young people to be protected from what's going on in the world," said Ken Riding Bird, who presided over the prayer ceremony.
"To me it's very appropriate to do that because as young people we have to do our best to pray for our people, especially with what's going on in the world right now," Riding Bird said.
Windy Boy then spoke to the family members while they ate.
"We're taught that the best we can give is our children," he said. "Today we honor your children - our children - serving in the war. We pray for them to remember the teachings of our old ones, of love, as they serve.
"Let us remember that we have been at war for a lot of years to protect our way of life, since the first invasion of Europeans on this continent," Windy Boy told the group. That war, he said, would continue until Indian people have appropriate levels of health care, housing, jobs and other services.
Windy Boy also recognized the veterans of previous wars, as well as those who fought to get a reservation. "It's only appropriate that we recognize our own old ones that paid dearly," he said.
The flags were retired with another honor song, and the families continued to eat.
"It makes me real proud," said Jody Badgley, whose son Michael Badgley Jr., will be heading to Kuwait this week. "I'm glad that they're showing respect for the people that are serving their country."
Michael Badgley, 30, is an alumnus of Havre High School and was stationed in Alaska during the first Gulf War, his mother said.
"He's my only son, and I get scared, get nervous, but then I just have to realize that God's in control," Jody Badgley said.
"I'm nervous," said Michael Badgley Sr., who is a Vietnam veteran. "I'm worried but I'm in favor of the war. I believe it's necessary."
"I think (the ceremony) was a real push for the young kids that are serving in the war," said Allen Crain, 78, whose grandson, Allen Carlos Sutherland, is on his way to Kuwait with the Army. "It was really good that the tribe is backing them."
Crain, a World War II veteran, said the tribe had victory dances after that war ended.
"There would have been more people (at the ceremony), but the limit was six per family," said Jennifer Parker of Rocky Boy, who has a sister in the Navy and served food at the luncheon.
Parker said that during the first Gulf War, the tribe held a round dance at Stone Child College to honor veterans as well as the troops in the war. Parker said all five of her brothers have served in the military.