KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The smell of sage burning in a smudge bowl fills the air, the texture rough on the outside but smooth on the inside. A Native American family kneels down in prayer while waving the smoke toward themselves with an eagle feather before the start of their day.
According to Native American culture, the eagle is the highest flying bird and the rising smoke signifies the prayer being sent.
While other people may have started their day differently while growing up, this was the norm for Senior Airman Taylor Walkingstick, 81st Security Forces Squadron installation patrolman.
Walkingstick did not experience a typical American upbringing. He is a member of the Cherokee Nation, part of the 2 percent world population of Native Americans.
Native American Indian Heritage Month is just not another month for Walkingstick; it is an opportunity to raise awareness about his culture.
“My dad wanted to instill our heritage into me and my sister growing up,” said Walkingstick. “I’m thankful he did.”
While others played basketball, football and other sports, Walkingstick was preparing for powwows – learning and practicing the Men’s Fancy Dance as well as creating his regalia, a Native American bustle worn during a dance exhibition.
“A powwow is a huge ceremony where people from all over America can come and experience the culture,” said Walkingstick. “I was a dancer and my sister was a dancer. We wore ribbons, cloth, fake fur and bright colors.”
Walkingstick said he created and fixed his own regalia for powwows, a craft he enjoyed and shared with his father, a craftsman.
“When I came home from my school I would see him craft things for people,” said Walkingstick. “He can craft any type of weaponry, jewelry, pottery and any kind of clothing. My dad would set up a booth at powwows and sell all his crafts.”
Walkingstick explained how compared to societal norms where long earrings and necklaces are considered feminine on a male, it is the opposite in the Native American culture.
“Usually Native Americans wear a choker around their neck,” said Walkingstick. “It is a sign of wealth, honor and respect.”
Walkingstick said everything they do is about honor and respect, and growing up with those values helped him adapt to the Air Force culture.
“Respecting authority and discipline has been instilled in me since a very young age,” Walkingstick said. “I was always around older people and I was taught to respect my elders – that’s a huge thing in Native American culture. I respect anyone who is appointed over me, a supervisor, someone who is higher ranking and whoever is in my chain of command.”
Putting the best foot forward is an everyday practice for Walkingstick; he is not only representing the Air Force, but his Native American culture as well.
“I try to take advantage of this month to show everyone we’re still here and to teach others about our culture,” said Walkingstick. “Whenever I’m doing my job or carrying out my everyday duties I try to be the best person I can be to be a good representative for Native Americans and to show we still exist.”