Rogue Valley powwow honors veterans

WHITE CITY, Ore.– A ceremony steeped in Native American tradition, the Rogue Valley Veterans Powwow was held over the weekend at the VA in White City.

Veterans and the public were welcomed to join in the ceremonies to honor all those who have served the country. With an array of vendors and ceremonial tributes, the event set out to ensure those that served were shown the respect and tribute they deserve for laying down their lives.

“We need this to heal ourselves,” said Blanket, a Native American veteran who came for the opening ceremonies. “But it’s not just for natives, its for all races.”

For 21 years, this powwow has been held at the VA Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinic’s baseball field to honor not just Native American veterans but all veterans.

While the public was welcomed to watch, the event was mostly meant for the “warriors” who have fought for this country.

“When you’re in combat, bullets and bombs don’t know the color of the skin, they don’t care. They have no compassion and they are meant for destruction,” said David West, the master of ceremonies. “This is meant for life. To bring people back from that destruction.”

West, a representative of the Southern Oregon Indian Coalition, the Rogue Valley Veterans Powwow is one of a kind event. It was the first gathering in the nation to be held on veterans administration grounds and developed into a program meant to help veterans.

“Use of the sweat lodge, talking circles and other treatment modalities from Native American people for the treatment of PTSD, alcoholism and drug abuse,” said West. “Also the issues that’s really very much at the forefront these days, suicide prevention.”

According to VA officials, Native Americans have the highest per capita enlistment of any ethnicity. From the Revolutionary War to the present-day U.S. military, Native Americans have served in all branches of the military. In a data report collected in 2012 by the VA on American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans, Oregon had over 3,000 veterans.

Officials from the VA say being able to hold a powwow at a VA location has special meaning for both sides.

“The high regard that they have for the warriors, for those that go and serve, I think sets a great example,” said Larry Johnson, manager of the American Indian and Alaska Native program. “In that regard, having the powwow here is a powerful representation.”

With people from various tribes coming into the valley for this event, it’s a powerful moment in time.

“You have to be pure at heart,” said Blanket.

Blanket described being able to take part in the Gourd Dance, a sacred ceremony for warriors that have served in combat. As a member of the service and one who received treatment from the White City VA, being a part of the dance is special.

In respect for this tradition, NBC5 News followed the wishes of the coalition to not show any footage of the gourd dancing.

On Sunday, during later portions of the ceremonies, veterans shared where they served, those who didn’t come home were honored¬†and those that did come home were given a chance to find solace where they may not have had it before.

“You can’t give more than your life that’s all you have to give, the deepest you have to give,” said West. “So when they come home and need to begin reliving that life in a different way, that’s what this is all about. Its helping them to find that way and helping to support them and sustain them in that journey.”

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