By John Christian Hopkins
Sanders, Arizona (NFIC) 1-09
Last years 62nd Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, Ariz., was dedicated to honoring tribal women, who are seen as the backbone of the Nation.
One family made it personal, honoring Staff Sgt. Mildred Tood Drake, of Killeen, Tex., after her recent retirement from 20 years in the Army.Some two dozen family members and friends gathered at a family homestead to eat, laugh and pay tribute to another in a long line of family veterans.
The family has had warriors dating from before the Long Walk of 1864, through both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and the current Gulf War, said Jeff Begay, himself a Vietnam veteran.
The family has always been proud of those that have stood up to be counted when it was important, Begay said. He acted as master of ceremonies during an impromptu ceremony for Todd, her mother, Elsie Drake, and other family veterans.
It was a day to remember her own son, Karen Tsinniginni said. Her son, Nolan Richardson, has been a Marine for the past five years.
Hes shooting for eight years, Tsinniginni added proudly.
She said her son was moved by the people of Sri Lanka when he was deployed there to help with tsunami relief efforts.
He said people were really nice, they were coming up and offering them food, inviting them to their homes to eat, Tsinniginni said. They just wanted to be friends.
Todd took part in the annual Navajo parade.
That was an ordeal, she laughed. Her lower back was aching from the awkward position she was seated in. Im all paraded out, I cant wave anymore!
So, if she had to chose, would Todd rather do another tour in Iraq, or endure another parade.
Hmm. Let me think, she laughed.
The parade, Bernice Austin-Begay offered. At least at the end of that you get a mutton feast!
She works in a good way, Jeff Begay said of his cousin, Mildred.
Occasionally wiping away tears of joy, Stella Drake said in Navajo, It is in a good way that my baby has come back home. I offered prayers for her safe return every day.
Chevon Todicheeney was also honored for her service in the Navy.
Yep, I admit it Im a squid, Todicheeney said. I drove an aircraft carrier. Shes glad to be home and is going to school now.
Continuing her education is also what Todd plans. She hopes to become a teacher someday.
But she said her days in the service taught her a lot about respecting other people.
All we know is what we see on TV, what the news tells us, Todd said. We think of them as evil and that they want to hurt us.
Sometimes we can forget that they are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers just like us, Todd said. Seeing the poverty in Iraq made her feel a sort of kinship with them, Todd added.
I looked around and saw no electricity, no water and said this is what life is like on the Navajo Reservation, Todd said.
Lee Todicheeney, a Korean War veteran, agreed with his niece, Todd. Too often, we forget that the people overseas are people, too, he said.
They are people, they have land, they have families and they have children, Lee Begay said.
Lees brother, Harry Todicheeney, said, in Navajo, that the familys prayers were answered by Todds safe return. Though it was Todd who was in Iraq, she wasnt alone, Harry Todicheeney said.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, your mother and father are with you, Harry Todicheeney said. You are not alone. You are always Navajo.