U.S. Air Force attends Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation Powwow

  • Published
  • By Ms. Abigail Kinder
  • Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force representatives from the Sentinel System Program Office and Minot Air Force Base attended the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation’s Little Shell Celebration in New Town, N.D., to provide outreach on behalf of the Sentinel weapon system (formerly known as the ground-based strategic deterrent) project, Aug. 10-13.

The celebration, which was hosted by the Three Affiliated Tribes or MHA Nation, is the tribe’s largest powwow and gathers attendees from across the region. At the event, the Air Force team manned an educational booth spreading awareness of the Sentinel project, which aims to replace the aging Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system with the LGM-35A ICBM by the late 2020s.

While Minot Air Force Base will be the last installation to receive Sentinel, current outreach events like this are a key opportunity for the Air Force to answer questions from residents on the Fort Berthold Reservation. MHA Nation hosts 16 91st Missile Wing facilities on tribal land, making them a key stakeholder in the program.

“This event demonstrated more than community outreach,” said Lisa Lone Fight, Senior Science Advisor for MHA Nation, Office of Chairman Fox. “Our collaboration with the Air Force not only highlights the MHA Science Department/USAF Sentinel joint research team's capability but also showcases our tribe's capacity to work with the military, extract key lessons, and share them broadly.”

MHA Nation is not only a key partner to today’s strategic deterrence mission, but it has a longstanding history with the U.S. military. Tribal members served in the Spanish American War, World War 1, and many other conflicts despite not being recognized as citizens. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act in 1965 that Native Americans were allowed to vote, yet members of MHA Nation still served in all branches of the military with pride and dignity, providing the highest rate of service of any demographic in the U.S.

Today, the MHA Nation continues to celebrate their military heritage through ceremonies, dances and recognition at powwows. Many of these members can be identified by their distinctive American Legion, Auxiliary or Veterans of Foreign Wars uniforms.

Through the Little Shell Celebration, Air Force representatives were able to immerse themselves in the rich culture and traditions of MHA Nation while showing their support and respect for the sovereign nation. This firsthand learning and respect for the tribe’s people and land will pave the way for more cultural awareness from the Air Force and its representatives.

“It was truly an honor for me to attend the Little Shell Celebration and partake in a culturally rich experience,” said Col. George Chapman, 91st Missile Wing deputy commander. “The color guard formation and grand entry reiterated to me the special place our active-duty members and veterans hold in our communities.” He went on to say that as the emcee honored Native veterans, both past and present, he felt touched while reflecting on Staff Sgt. (ret) Ira Brown, a Native veteran of the United States Air Force and his wife’s grandfather, who was laid to rest 18 months ago. Chapman continued, “I am grateful for the opportunity to serve in the 91st Missile Wing where we share such a special relationship with the MHA Nation, one I hope to see grow as we move together, confidently into the future…a future that would make SSgt. Brown and the veterans of MHA Nation proud.”

Celebrations began Thursday night with traditional ceremonies of the flag folding by American Legion and VFW members, as well as gift-giving ceremonies to honor members of the community. Throughout the weekend, over 5,000 people gathered to watch and participate in traditional dance and song. The Air Force representatives provided information to many members of MHA Nation and were even invited to participate in a gift-giving ceremony and flag raising in honor of the nation’s veterans.

According to Robbie Knight, Sentinel System Program Office, National Environmental Policy, Test Program Manager, the team was attending the powwows as a follow-up to the Environmental Impact Statement Public Hearing with the MHA Nation in summer 2022. “We were asked by community members to hold additional forums where they could ask questions and receive additional information on the Sentinel program,” Knight said. “ The booth at the powwow has been a great way to interact with the public, answer questions, and deepen our understanding of the concerns of the members of the MHA Nation and residents of the Fort Berthold Reservation.”

The Sentinel team’s attendance at the event marked the second Air Force engagement at an MHA Nation powwow, the first taking place at the White Shield Celebration in July. Both celebrations allowed the Air Force participants to meet the community, have a meal together and experience the diverse culture of MHA Nation.

"The collaboration at the Little Shell Celebration with the U.S. Air Force Signals mutual respect and reaffirms our vision for shared progress," remarked Mark Fox, Chairman of the MHA Nation. With continuous outreach and learning, the team will have the opportunity to strengthen relationships with Minot’s neighboring nation now and into the future.

For more information on MHA Nation, community members can go to www.mhanation.com or visit the MHA Nation Interpretive Center in New Town, ND.