Honoring the first people of America and the warriors who served to protect it

Texas VA hosts special event for Native American Heritage Month



HARLINGEN, Texas — VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System (VCB) recently held a special event in observance National Native American Heritage Month.

The special event took place on November 16, 2018, outside the main entrance to the Harlingen VA Outpatient Clinic (HOPC) and featured performances by members of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas. The performances incorporated dancing and singing guided by the beat of a drum circle.

Robert Soto, the vice chairman of the tribe explained the history and significance of the performances, which included an original song the tribe wrote in gratitude to U.S. military service members.

Another performance was called the Hoop Dance, which involved one tribal member maneuvering in and out of a complex set of hoops while dancing in order to create different intricate shapes formed by linking the hoops together after a series of movements.

According to Soto the dance symbolizes the many different challenges or “hoops” people have to jump and work through in life, such as illness, discrimination and the loss of a loved one. The free-standing shapes formed by the connected group of hoops symbolizes the strength that can come by taking the lessons learned from those challenging moments or “hoops”. The hoop dance is also regarding as a healing dance by other tribes.


At one point there were approximately 100 people standing in and around the main entrance to the clinic in order to watch the performances, which received positive reviews from Veterans who stood in the crowd.

“The dancing and singing was beautiful and captivating,” said U.S. Marine Corps Veterans Laura Serna Marquez. “I think it’s outstanding that the VA hosted an event like this one to honor Native Americans, especially those who served and sacrificed for our country. I really enjoyed this event and I think it’s one a lot people will remember and continue to talk about later.”

Another person who enjoyed the event was Air Force Veteran William Wilson.

“I liked watching the dances because it reminded me of the three (American) Indian dances I participated in years ago in Quincy, Illinois,” said the former Airman. “Events like this are fun to watch, but also help raise awareness about Native Americans and their culture.”

After the performances a speech was delivered by Dr. Eric D. Kendle, the acting chief of staff for VCB, who was asked to be the event’s keynote speaker.

Dr. Kendle, introduced himself in the Algonquian language and shared with the audience details about his ancestral connection to the Tobique Band of Maliseets along with few of the memories he made growing up in Limestone, Maine, and the Tobique First Nation Reserve New Brunswick.


The military history enthusiast, and former Air Force colonel provided the audience with details about the life of  Army Master Sgt. Woodrow W. Keeble, a full-blooded member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor during a White House ceremony on March 3, 2008 in recognition of his brave actions during the Korean War in 1951.

The event concluded after VA social worker, Maribel Barcenas, announced that in celebration and honor of Native American Heritage Month Abel Flores, the current administrative officer for HOPC had been nominated for the Veteran of the Day, a special program featured on the VA’s official national-level news blog, VAntage Point, which recognizes American Veterans from distinct eras for their honorable military service.

Flores is an enrolled member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe, who at the age of 17 joined the Army and served with the VII Corps and the 1st Calvary Division as a radio operator. He served two years active duty and four years active member of the Army Reserve.

The special event at the Harlingen clinic took place as part of the VA’s nation-wide observance of National Native American Heritage Month, which among many things focuses on raising awareness about the service and sacrifice of Native American Veterans that spans nearly two and a half centuries of American history.

Native Americans have served in the U.S. armed forces in every major conflict since the Revolutionary War and according to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), American Indians and Alaska Natives have one of the highest representations in the military.

To learn more about Native American Heritage Month go to nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov  or  click on Native American Heritage.


Author’s note: In 2009, the Native American Heritage Day resolution was signed and designated the day after Thanksgiving for the annual observance. For 2018, that day is the 23rd of November.

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Luis Loza Gutierrez

Luis H. Loza Gutierrez joined the Department of Veterans Affairs in October of 2017 and serves as a public affairs specialist for VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System more commonly referred to as VCB.

In addition to winning multiple awards as a writer, editor, photographer, illustrator and graphic artist during his more than 10 years in the U.S. Air Force as a public affairs specialist and photojournalist, L.G. (as he was called by his fellow Airmen) also served as a member for the Grand Forks Air Force Base Honor Guard in North Dakota.

He volunteered to deploy out of cycle twice in a period of less than 18 months, the second of which included a six-month tour as a member of the public affairs team at United States Force-Iraq headquarters at Camp Victory in Baghdad.

The former non-commissioned officer returned home to the Rio Grande Valley in deep South Texas in November of 2015, and feels enthusiastic and honored to continue to serve his fellow brothers- and sisters-in-arms as a member of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.