Vision Maker Media will present “CommUnity: Returning Home Through Togetherness” 

Vision Maker Media

A film program and panel discussion commemorating Native Veterans  

To celebrate National Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month in November, Vision Maker Media (VMM) will present “CommUNITY: Returning Home Through Togetherness” an event featuring a film program and panel discussion commemorating Native American and Alaska Native veterans. 

Native Americans and Alaska Natives continue to serve in the armed forces at a higher ratio per their demographic. According to the Department of Defense, out of 1.2 million men and women in active duty in the U.S. military today, more than 23,000 of them are Native American and Alaska Native. Native Americans and Alaska Natives are one of the most consistent demographics that risk their lives for a government that tried to eradicate them. 

“Returning Home Through Togetherness” is part of VMM’s 45th Anniversary and yearlong theme of commUNITY. It will be available to the public November 1-24, 2021 for free streaming 24/7 at visionmakermedia.org. PBS and the Cherokee Nation Film Office are sponsors of VMM’s 45th anniversary events. 

The event will feature a short four-part documentary series, titled “Under the Battle Tipi: The Kiowa Black Leggings Warrior Society.” The Kiowa Black Leggings Warrior Society is a 20th century revival of the Ton-Kon-Gah, one of several military societies active among the Kiowa in the 19th century. For as long as anyone can remember, warriors and veterans have held one of the most respected places in the culture of the Kiowa tribe of Oklahoma. In 1958, a group of Kiowa veterans reactivated the ancient Ton-Kon-Gah to recognize the current military service of community members. The organization has prospered over the last 50 years and has become a revered and integral part of traditional Kiowa life. 

In the series, producer Charles “Boots” Kennedye (Kiowa) interviews respected Kiowa leaders in the organization. Veteran interviewees include: (1) Blas Preciado, who experienced heavy fighting during the Tet offensive in Vietnam. Preciado found healing among the other Kiowa veterans in the Black Legs; (2) Darwin Palmer, whose family is tied to the Black Leggings through his father, Gus Palmer Sr., who was part of the initiators who reactivated the ancient warrior society and who served as its first Commander. Inherited from that warrior tradition, Darwin served two tours in Vietnam and was awarded a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for valor; (3) Vanessa Jennings, who dances at the ceremonial to honor her uncle, George Mopope, who at the age of 15, with the permission of his family, joined the service and fought in Korea. Jennings serves in the women’s auxiliary and takes part in the scalp dance to honor the warriors in her family and tribe; and (4) Lowell “Skeex” Russell, who was inducted into the Black Legs in 1991. He was part of an M-1 tank crew during Operation Desert Storm where he single handedly captured nine Iraqi soldiers. 

On November 11, 2021, VMM will present a virtual panel titled, “Returning Home Through Togetherness: What Does it Mean to Be a Warrior?” at 6 p.m. CST. The panel will include four Native men and women military veterans who are members of their warrior societies. As society members, they will discuss the roles and responsibilities as providers and defenders of their tribe, community and culture. 

In November, we share stories about warriors, boarding school children, loss and death,” says VMM Executive Director Francene Blythe-Lewis (Diné, Sisseton Wahpeton and Eastern Cherokee). “As warriors, the fight to safeguard and return home keeps us persevering. As children, when removed from the home—whether through boarding school or foster care forced removals—the memory of home keeps us hopeful that we will reunite someday. For the missing and departed, we pray for their return. Home is in our spirit and returning home through togetherness remains the hope.” 

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