“It’s like a family reunion” Southern Ute Vietnam veteran Rod Grove said, a sentiment echoed by Milton Poola, one of the conferences long time attendees.
In it’s 15th year, the Native American Veterans Symposium draws hundreds in from across Indian Country to discuss opportunities available to Native American veterans, while providing an atmosphere for socialization, networking and support.
“Our veterans command the respect of the American people,” said Marvin Trujillo Jr. Veterans Program Director Pueblo of Laguna and former First Lieutenant Marine Corps.
Trujillo summed up the purpose of the symposium, “to better educate our veterans on what’s available to them.”
He also served as master of ceremonies for the morning presentations held in the ballroom theater of the Route 66 Hotel and Casino on the Laguna Pueblo.
Located to the west of Albuquerque, New Mexico the symposium took place on Friday, November 8 in recognition of Veterans Day.
This year’s Symposium was sponsored by Indian Health Services & Veterans Affairs and co-sponsored by the Pueblo of Laguna. The event draws upwards of 600 attendees each year.
“I thought about the many wars and challenges that have confronted our people,” Laguna Pueblo Governor Richard B. Luarkie said, “we have a history as native people.”
Luarkie spoke of the willingness of Native Americans to lend themselves [enlist] to protect American soil in times of war. To put their lives on the line to honor their beliefs.
“That foundation has driven us to this day,” Luarkie said, “as I think about these things [I can’t help but feel] how blessed we are as a people”
“I want to say thank you again. It is an honor to have you on our lands and in our facility.” Luarkie said.
The Laguna Eagle dancers performed a traditional song during the posting of the colors.
An informational presentation followed opening remarks, covering such topics as the Affordable Care Act and it’s possible effect on services such as Medicaid, and The Exchange.
“No big change for veterans under the law,” assured Abuko D. Estrada, staff attorney NM center on law and poverty, in regards to the implementation of The Affordable Care Act.
Trujillo encouraged veterans to enroll in State and Federal programs if not for themselves then simply to help better their communities, “Economic development in their communities, even housing,” can be effected in a positive way he said.
“I think it strengthens Indian Health Services if we are involved [ that goes for] both veterans and families,” Grove said.