SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- --
November is National Native American Heritage Month, Staff Sgt. Brittinie Alvarez, 50th Security Forces Squadron reports and analysis noncommissioned officer in charge, shared the impact her Native American heritage made in her life.
Alvarez is a member of the Shoshone and Bannock tribes, and grew up in The Fort Hall Shoshone Bannock Indian Reservation in Idaho.
“One of my favorite memories is when I was 16 years old,” Alvarez said. “I was spearfishing salmon on a river with my family in the middle of a forest in rural Idaho. Our people have done this for hundreds of years, and it was a pretty normal annual fishing trip for myself and my family. I just caught a salmon and was walking back to camp when a group of random college students drove by, stopped and called out to me saying ‘Are you an Indian?’ I’m dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. ‘Yes’ I called out. They asked to take my picture and drove off. That's when I realized that our heritage was a bit different than the normal American upbringing.”
Although stereotypes toward Native Americans have occurred within U.S. society for generations, Alvarez said she welcomes the chance to educate people on her tribes and Native American lifestyle.
“When I was younger, I used to be a bit offended, but I couldn't be mad because people were genuinely curious,” she said. “I would tease and say, ‘I don't use a car, I use my horse - it gets great grass mileage.’ Then I would let them know I live in a typical American house and it is not much different than any other house in America.”
Alvarez said joining the Air Force gave her more opportunities to share her unique perspective, including running a Native American educational booth for Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado’s annual Diversity Day event last year.
“We wanted to educate people,” she said. “I feel everyone, regardless where they are from, brings unique assets and perspectives to the Air Force. I just provide one more perspective from a sea of diverse cultures, backgrounds and experiences.”
Alvarez is one of more than 30,000 Native Americans serving in the U.S. military, and part of the more than 5 million Native Americans living in the U.S. today.
U.S. military history is marked with the service and sacrifice of Native American service members, such as Ira Hayes, U.S. Marine and Native American from the Pima tribe; one of the men pictured in Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photograph “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima,” which lifted morale among soldiers and civilians alike, and the famous Navajo code talkers, whose exclusive language coupled with other tribal language code talkers formed a network of cryptic communications aiding the U.S. and its allies’ war efforts in World War II.
Alvarez said she is one of many from her tribes who has served, and the stories she heard growing up inspired her to join the Air Force.
“My reservation has many military veterans; so much that the Military Order of the Purple Heart announced that the Fort Hall Reservation will be known as the first reservation in the United States to be recognized as a Purple Heart Reservation,” she said. “I have grown up listening to our veterans tell their stories and sharing pictures.”
She added military service among Native Americans runs deep and there are many similarities between the military and Native American lifestyle.
“A large amount of Native Americans respect military personnel and we consider them warriors for our country; holding ceremonies, honoring them in powwow grand openings and prayers,” Alvarez said. “Tribes vary by location and people depending on where you go. Some are bigger or smaller; somewhat like a military base but without any fences or physical barriers. A lot of what we do is comparable, like having our own special jargon, having ceremonies for promotion and more.”
Former President George H.W. Bush established National Native American Heritage Month in 1990 to recognize the positive impact Native Americans have made in U.S. history. November was chosen because the month concludes the traditional harvest season and is a general time of celebration for Native Americans throughout the country.
“During National Native American Heritage Month, we celebrate the legacy of the first people to call this land home,” said President Donald Trump in his annual Presidential Proclamation on National Native American Heritage Month. “American Indians and Alaska Natives are both important components of the American mosaic. Native Americans are business owners creating good jobs for American workers, teachers educating our children, first responders assisting neighbors in need and leaders serving their communities. This month, we especially recognize the immeasurable contribution of American Indians and Alaska Natives who serve in the armed forces at five times the national average.”
Alvarez said “Oose” (thank you in Shoshone) to the Air Force for the opportunity to share her heritage and strengthen it through diversity.
“Diversity is essential to growth and prosperity whether it is in military or civilian life,” she said. “It brings different perspectives of experiences, cultures, genders and ages all together to understand one another.”
For more information about National Native American Heritage Month, go to https://www.deomi.org/human-relations/special-observances.cfm?tab=12.