The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law held a Native American cultural event on Tuesday night as Native American Heritage month comes to an end later this week.
Over 70 people gathered for the Showing Indigenous Strength Through Performance and Strength event. Held outside the building, Native dancers performed an array of dances such as fancy shawl, traditional and hoop dancing, before a screening of the film “Honor Riders”.
It was hosted by ASU’s American Indian Social Work Student Association, Native American Law Student Association, Native Americans for Academics, Success and Unity and Sun Devil Fitness Complex Downtown Outreach.
“Honor Riders” is about the Native American motorcycle group, Navajo-Hopi Honor Riders. The group first started in 2003 in honor of the family of Hopi tribal member, Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman killed in combat in Iraq.
Now there are over 350 members within the organization who provide assistance to veterans and their families. Whether through escort services for homecomings or funerals, the Honor Riders offer help to enhance their lives and honor those who served. Native Americans serve the U.S. military in the highest numbers per capita than any other ethnic group.
Earlier this month, “Honor Riders” won the 2017 Tulalip Tribes Prize at the Social Justice Film Festival in Seattle, Washington for Top Native American feature film and was accepted into six festivals.
The director and Navajo Nation member Ralphina Hernandez held a Q&aA session after the screening with Kris and Melissa Beecher. Both are associate producers of the film and a husband and wife duo. Kris moderated throughout the screening but partly joined in on the session.
“It’s really important to get out there and get the stories documented. To make sure that we get these stories on record and understand what we are asking of our veterans,” Kris said. “The trials and tribulations that they have been through and being able to put it into context, and how we can help serve them better in the community.”
Melissa touched on how far Native veterans have to travel in order to receive services.
“One thing that I did learn through it, is that these veterans have to travel to Phoenix and sometimes that is 300 miles away,” Beecher said. “And to get services, that’s a big barrier for them to get out of and … when they do get there, they weren’t getting the help to begin with. That was really eye-opening and something we should be addressing.”
For Hernandez, the moment when she decided to pursue this documentary was when she joined the Navajo-Hopi Honor Riders on a motorcycle ride to Washington D.C.
“At the time, it was mostly an adventure to me and I didn’t think anything of it until I saw the Vietnam Memorial and saw my brother’s name,” Hernandez said. “I was 10 years old when he died in 1971. And I never really healed, I had a lot of anger and I had a lot of grief that I kept inside of me. And in making this film it’s really helped my healing process.”
Phoenix resident Vodell Haan from the San Carlos Apache tribe was surprised by what he learned and saw at the screening. Before he thought it would be just about a motorcycle group, but he did not know of Honor Riders’ work with veterans.
“It’s a lot of meaning like how the veterans were saying that it means a lot to have somebody welcome you home, because they went through a lot mentally and physically,” Haan said. “They just want that little support even though it means having somebody say ‘Welcome home, get better.’”
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