We welcome visitors to our tribe, to our homes

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jared Wyaco
  • 71st Medical Operations Squadron
(Editor's note: President Barack Obama proclaimed November National Native-American Heritage Month. He will host the 7th White House Tribal Nations conference later this year, bringing together leaders of 567 tribes to explore opportunities for progress, with a focus on young people. One of those Native-American young people is assigned here at Vance Air Force Base.)

I am Jared Wyaco, son of Tammy Wyaco and Jamie Mahooty. I was born in Zuni, New Mexico and raised there by my mother and grandmother. Zuni is one of 19 Native-American tribes in the state. My clans are Dogwood and Child of the Corn.

In Zuni you can see a picturesque desert setting - sage brush, mountains and towering pine trees. As fall settles in, the cool greens become blazing orange. The view is especially beautiful at dawn and dusk.

Most of my family has lived in Zuni all of their lives. My grandmother, Florine Beyuka, is a silversmith - she makes stunning necklaces and earrings. My mother is training for a career in nursing. She also makes jewelry. With their support, I have made great strides in my life.

Sometimes, I take a step back and marvel at my opportunity to work alongside the greatest Airmen in the world. It is truly a wonderful blessing and privilege.

Being a Native American gives me a unique perspective on my service in the military. I believe in the gods and Creator of my Zuni religion. I understand how respect in life yields many blessings in the forms of the tangible and intangible. These blessings further strengthen my commitment in the Air Force.

The Zuni culture is very rich in oral history. Traditions and stories are passed down from generation to generation. This is why the Zuni language is vital to keeping our traditions alive. The public school I attended incorporates speaking, reading, and writing the Zuni language in the curriculum to help sustain our heritage.

Part of that heritage is the diverse and unique celebrations of the Zuni tribe. One example is "Shalako." It is a ceremony, typically in December, which acknowledges the harvests of the year, newly built homes and paves the way for the New Year.

Great food is an important part of the celebration. The spirits of our ancestors visit during Shalako along with six Shalako kachinas - representatives of the six directions. Each kachina stands approximately 10 feet tall.

The Shalako dance lasts throughout the night until sunrise. In the morning, the six Shalako race each other. It is quite an event to see. Their departure is bittersweet, but we rejoice in the great festival.

At the fundamental level, the Zuni people, like all people in the United States and around the world, have the same goals. We want to protect our families, provide them sustenance and live our lives in peace.

And we welcome visitors -- to our tribe and to our homes.