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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

National American Indian Heritage Observance Kickoff Event
Washington, DC
November 3, 2011

Dr. Skupien, thank you for that kind introduction, and for your leadership of our Office of Rural Health. Let me also acknowledge:

  • Secretary Ed Chow, Maryland's Secretary of Veterans Affairs;

  • Our America Indian Heritage Month Observance Committee: William Hester [Chair], Cathy Gentry [Co-chair], and Tiffany Lewis, and each member of the D.C. VA Medical Center's America Indian Heritage Month Committee—thank you all for helping to organize today's important event;

  • Dennis Zotigh from the National Museum of the American Indian, who performed with the drum, which included the Black Bear Singers, led by head drummer Pete Echo-Hawk;

  • Thanks to Rico Newman, for blessing today's observance;

  • VA colleagues, fellow Veterans, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Good afternoon, everyone! I am honored to help launch VA's National Native American Heritage Observance. It is both our opportunity and our obligation to reflect on the accomplishments of American Indians and Alaskan natives and their wonderfully rich cultures—whether it touches the environment, food and dress, music and the arts, in science, religion, languages, education, business, government, or the host of other ways we describe such influences on our lives.

Importantly, to keep us the land of the free and home of the brave, American Indians and Alaskan Natives have served our Nation, and theirs, in uniform with loyalty, patriotism, honor, courage, and sacrifice—for more than two centuries, in every war fought by the United States.

One brief testament, among many, to the courage and selflessness of native Americas in battle is the narrative of Corporal Mitchell Red Cloud who enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 17, served throughout World War II, and was honorably discharged in 1945, only to enlist again in 1948—this time in the Army.

On 5 November 1950, while serving in a combat outpost forward of Company E, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, Corporal Red Cloud was the first to detect an impending attack and sounded the alarm. As the enemy charged from less than 100 feet away, he stood his ground, halting the attack by delivering devastating, point-blank automatic weapons fire into its ranks, gaining critical time for his company to organize its defense.

Disregarding his own safety, he continued firing from this exposed position, refusing all assistance when severely wounded. Pulling himself erect, he wrapped his arm around a tree and continued to fight until he was felled by intense enemy fire. Near-single-handedly, he broke the enemy's attack, prevented his company from being overrun, and saved the lives of his fellow soldiers. For his actions, he was posthumously awarded our country's highest decoration for valor—the Medal of Honor.

Mitchell Red Cloud personifies duty, personal courage, and selfless service for those familiar with his narrative, especially the youngsters who serve at camp Red Cloud, Korea, today.

Ladies and gentlemen, today we welcome Dr. Henrietta Mann to VA. She is the founding president of the Cheyenne and Arapaho College.

Dr. Mann has appeared in every education setting from classroom to administration headquarters to the board rooms of some of America's most prestigious colleges and universities—Harvard; University of California, Berkeley; Haskell Indian Nations' University. A leader in the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes, Dr. Mann has helped shape the face of America education for more than four decades.

Her contributions extend beyond academia—she has shared her extensive knowledge of Native American history and culture with authors, filmmakers, and television documentarians, including Ken Burns and Stephan Ives on their PBS project, The West.

She has served in the federal government as a Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And she has been repeatedly honored for her exceptional achievements, earning honors as:

  • Cheyenne Indian of the Year in 1983 and National America Indian Woman of the Year in 1988;

  • One of Ten Leading Professors in the Nation in 1991 (Rolling Stone), and one of Five Influential "20th Century Women Educators" (National Women's History Project);

  • And as the recipient of the National Indian Education Association's 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award.

And yet, perhaps Dr. Mann's greatest achievement—one for which she has tirelessly worked with great passion—is the founding of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal college, in her hometown of Weatherford, Oklahoma.

Speaking of her life's work, Dr. Mann says, "I intend to continue utilizing my skills and experience to do the work i was destined to perform. Cheyennes believe we are each put on earth for a purpose. I am fulfilling my life's purpose."

Ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to present to you our guest speaker for today—Dr. Henrietta Mann.