Embracing Native American Culture

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Juliana Londono
  • 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - With 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States, Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month serves to celebrate the backbone of America.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brady Pemberton, 50th Intelligence Squadron signals analyst, is proud to share his heritage with Team Beale.

Pemberton grew up in Grass Valley, California. He is Mountain Maidu on his mother’s side and Chippewa on his father’s side. He joined the Air Force Reserves at 18 and was originally with the 38th Intelligence Squadron before transferring to the 50th IS for Active Guard Reserve (AGR). He has been serving for almost 9 years.

Pemberton inputs the values taught by his family into his work.

“This is not exclusive to Native Americans, but when it comes to everyday life I try to treat everyone like family,” said Pemberton.

Pemberton is the Native American Indian Heritage Committee president and held the Native American Heritage Month celebration event on base for the past two years.

“This is the second year I have had the chance to hold the Native American Heritage Month event on base,” said Pemberton. “My leadership asked if I was Native and informed me that there wasn't a heritage committee on base and volunteered me to start it. Once I looked past having more work on my plate to throw the event, I realized how great the opportunity was when more Native American Airmen showed up to participate.”

Pemberton receives a lot of support from his family who help him run the cultural portion of the event. His mother and other family members make frybread, which serves as the basis for Indian tacos. Pemberton’s family friends volunteer to display their beadwork while his grandmother teaches beadwork to Airmen.

“Being able to promote something, yourself, your family, your history is awesome,” said Pemberton. “My grandma loves talking to whoever walks to her table because it's not like showcasing something in a museum, it’s stuff my family implemented into their lives and use it just like our people did hundreds and thousands of years ago.”

Although the committee is relatively small, the impact it has on the base is widespread. Leading this event celebratesNative American heritage while also educating Airmen on the good and bad parts of history and how these individuals helped shape today’s United States.

“Last year I had people I had never met who came to the event and they're like ‘I grew up on a reservation and haven't had these in years’ and it's really nice to have that representation,” said Pemberton. “I have been here for almost nine years and before I did [the event] there wasn't any native stuff for me. There was never a group; I think the last group they said was in 2014 and that was right before I joined.”

For Native Americans whose hair is part of their faith, Airmen can now submit a religious hair waiver in accordance with DAF instruction 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance. Also, recruits are now able to submit a pre-accession exception to policy of religious accommodations for certain things to include the dress and appearance policy.

“That makes me feel good [to hear],” said Pemberton. “The hair is a big part of my culture and it feels like even though it is for recruiting, you still feel heard and feel like you can express yourself the way you did growing up.”

According to an article published by the Department of Defense, Native Americans serve five times the national average in the armed forces. Moving toward a more diverse and inclusive force, the Department of the Air Force is continuously working to provide an equitable, accessible and inclusive environment for all its service members and employees.