Gourd dance at VA celebrates Native American culture, vets

  • Published
  • By Rebekah Molloy
  • Nucleus writer
The smell of sage, an offering to "Mother Earth," diffused a subtle fragrance over the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center parade grounds as Navajo, Apache, South Ute and other Native American representatives performed at the 10th Annual VA Veterans Gourd Dance Saturday.

The dance celebrates warriors' victories and helps the healing process by providing fellowship and reminding veterans they are not alone, nor are they forgotten, according to Tilford Brown, American Indian program manager for the hospital.

"We do it for the veterans," he said. "Most dancers are veterans themselves."

The dance was held from noon to 6 p.m. Shaking rattles made of gourds and cans, dancers emerged from the shade of their tents to form a holy circle and dance to the steady beat of the "grandfather drum" located in the center of the lawn.

Along with celebrating and propagating Native American culture, the gourd dance was performed to salute military veterans.

The dancers' colorful, hand-woven shawls and beaded jewelry merged with camouflage uniforms and stars and stripes, as many of the dancers wore feather headdresses with their military veteran caps.

On participant, Hanson Chee, began dancing in 1976, before he began military career. He said he became a dancer, "because I knew I'd be a veteran someday."

Chee served eight years in the Marine Corps and participates in gourd dances whenever he can, he said.

"Every time I could, I danced, even though I didn't have my regalia on," he said. "Now it's like a healing ceremony for me. When I go out there I dance for my family, for my brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandchildren, all the friends I've known, all the servicemen here and not here. Those I know who want to dance but they can't. I dance for them, too."

Onlooker Patti Vansell said she found out about the dance from her daughter, Annette Vansell, an Air Force veteran who volunteers at the hospital.

"I love the Indian culture here. I love the art. I think it's amazing," Patti said.