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Veterans honored at symposium

Photo Credit: Sacha Smith | The Southern Ute Drum

The 16th annual Native American Veterans Symposium made its return just in time for Veteran’s Day on Friday, Nov. 7. Held at the Route 66 Casino in Laguna Pueblo, the symposium brought together a number of American Indian veterans from across Indian Country to honor their bravery and dedication in protecting the country. The symposium additionally provided support for the veterans where they discussed access to healthcare and networking with organizations. Currently, there are over 100,000 Native American veterans.

“It’s always nice to see our brothers whom we’ve served with many years ago,” Southern Ute Councilman, Howard D. Richards said. “We appreciate the gratitude and support.”

The attending veterans were treated with a praising eagle dance provided by tribal members from Laguna Pueblo. Members from various organizations with relations to the Veterans Affair hosted discussions that cover specific resources and agreements for the veterans. These discussions included coverage of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid.

“It’s important to acknowledge all the veterans here today as well as those who have fallen protecting this country,” Dr. Leonard Thomas from the Indian Health Services said. “[Indian Health Services] are wanting to improve our ability to provide care for the veterans as we establish better coordination of care. We serve 27 different locations all across New Mexico, Colorado, and the Southwest. We want this to move forward in a positive action with full results.”

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Veterans Association and Indian Health Services was signed in 2010 to ensure support for the veterans.

Today, the goals for the MOU include the establishment of coordination, collaboration, and resource sharing between the Veterans Association and Indian Health Services while improving the health status of American Indian and Alaskan Native veterans. The MOU aims to foster an environment that brings together strengths and expertise from each organization to improve care and services provided by both.

Joseph Suina, governor of the Cochiti Pueblo, spoke to the veterans regarding his military experience and his influence of becoming a leader.

“It’s been almost 50 years and it feels like it was yesterday,” he said. “In a matter of months I experienced the worst possible deed that totally turned my world upside down. I think everyone who comes back home comes back with a lot of guilt. I remind myself of a time where things were difficult whenever I feel sorry for myself. I believe in our traditional way that nothing is impossible, and that’s why I wanted to be there for my people and show them support. You must always be here in the present, because the present really is a gift for all of us.”

Every year, the symposium continues to gratefully honor all the services and sacrifices made by the veterans through voice, music, and heritage. As the resources and services for veterans continue to expand, support for the heroes will always continue to expand with it.

“We must keep our songs, our heritage, and our tradition alive,” said Suina. “We must always fight for those things as American Indians.”

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