SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. – Native American Heritage Month, which was signed into law in 1990, is observed during the month of November to honor and celebrate the culture, traditions and achievements of the nation’s original inhabitants and their descendants.
According to the National Indian Council on Aging Inc., Native Americans have the highest per-capita involvement of any population to serve in the U.S. military. Among those Native Americans who serve is Airman 1st Class Marisa Chester, 4th Logistics Readiness Squadron centralized repairs facility apprentice.
Chester joined the U.S. Air Force in March 2022, following her father’s footsteps who also served in the U.S. Air Force. While her father contributed to her decision to serve, Chester stated her uncle was another huge factor in why she joined. He served in the United States Marine Corps, however passed away early on in his career.
“I am very close with my grandparents, especially my grandma,” said Chester. “She has such a kind heart and my uncle’s loss was very hard for my grandma, so I thought I would be able to do this for her and honor him. She didn’t get to see her son complete his time in the military.”
Chester went on to explain that most Native American communities view serving in the military as a highly respected path. This respect is rooted in a tradition back when being a warrior was one’s purpose in life and villages depended on warriors to defend the tribe.
Chester was born into two different native tribes, Sac and Fox and Absentee Shawnee, and is still a member of both. Chester described her love for her culture and their traditions, which revolve around family and community. She recalls going to family reunions often, potlucks and what is known in the Native American community as powwows.
A powwow is a gathering where Native Americans can honor, preserve and share their tribal traditions and culture. These gatherings bring a circle of people closer to their family and friends, with festivities that include tribal drum circles, native dance and song, feasting and other cultural activities. A powwow is a visual and artistic expression that symbolically embodies the strength and vitality of the Native American legacy.
“I genuinely think that my culture is so beautiful, we are very open and kind to people,” said Chester. “It’s in our spirit. I think that being Native American is the representation of the word strong and resilient.”