Reconnecting to culture during Native American Heritage Month

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alexander Merchak
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.— In light of Native American Heritage Month, Travis AFB celebrates indigenous people who serve across all ranks, including the many who represent the newest generation of Airmen.

One of those Airmen is U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Stephanie “Platero” (meaning Silversmith in Spanish) Dias, 60th Communications Squadron (CS) noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of local registration authority.

Dias, a Navajo native hailing from the vicinity of the To'hajilee Reservation in New Mexico, reflects on her personal experience of limited immersion in her own culture.

Last November, Dias had the unique opportunity to meet representatives of the Navajo tribe during a speaking engagement at the Mitchell Memorial Library on base where she learned more about her heritage and the cultural traditions, such as the Kinaalda.

Kinaalda is the “rite of passage” for a Navajo girl to transition into adulthood. According to an article in the Navajo Times, this cultural ceremony is conducted through song, prayer, and traditional protocols. The coming-of-age rite of passage is considered a time to reflect and understand the individual’s new roles and responsibilities and further develop a strong aptitude against adversities later in life.

“Even though I am past that age, it would have been a good way to reconnect with my culture to see the traditions they uphold,” Dias said.

She also had the opportunity to connect with other Airmen currently stationed at Travis AFB with Native American background to learn more about her culture.

“This month is important because there may be some other people who identify as native, like me, and this gives them the opportunity to reflect and learn,” Dias said.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Thomas Parsons, 60th CS cyber operations center NCOIC and Dias’s direct supervisor, said an individual’s cultural upbringing shapes how one views the world and how one conducts themself as a leader or technician.

“She (Dias) is a great NCO. She pays attention to detail and whenever she is tasked with something, she makes sure she does it right,” Parsons said. “Dias is also a good leader that takes care of her Airmen.”

Dias's journey as a leader in the Air Force, despite limited experience with her own Native American tribe, continues to evolve as she recognizes and embraces her cultural background. Additionally, she indicated her determination to serve comes from the support of her family.

The DoD’s theme this year for Native American Heritage Month is ‘Tribal Nations Soaring to New Heights’.

“I think in general having a mix of Native American and Hispanic heritage, allows me to connect with others to heighten inclusiveness,” said Dias, “I also like learning from others and their experiences. Being a good leader is a choice you must choose and work hard to achieve.”