Native American Heritage History Month Profile

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Shawn Nickel
  • 9th RW Public Affairs

Thundercloud Hirajeta

Rank: Technical Sergeant

Job Title: Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning mechanic assigned to special duty.

Time in service: 15 years

Where does the name Thundercloud come from?
"My father named me the day I was born in Panama. When my mother went into labor it was a bright sunny day. My father had to retrieve something and left the hospital a short while. As he left he noticed a big thundercloud over the hospital, everywhere else it was a still clear and sunny. As he drove over the Bridge of Americas a lightning bolt stuck the bridge as he passed over. When he came back to the hospital and I was born, he named me Thundercloud. Originally my name was supposed to be Luis Thundercloud Hirajeta, but my mom passed out after giving birth and my dad switched the names around."

Is this an unusual traditional Native American name?
"It is very unusual. My name is very common among some tribes as a last name, but most Native Americans today use traditional American names. Usually their Indian names are a given name that is not officially on paper."

What kind of reactions do you get from people when you tell them your name is Thundercloud?
"I've heard them all, but the most popular is Thundercat or Thunderbolt. Most people think it's pretty cool as I get older, but when I was younger a lot of people didn't understand the heritage."
What is your Native American History?
"My father is a Texas native and of Comanche Indian decent. I was born in Panama City, Panama while my father was stationed there in the Army. He married my mother, who is Panamanian and Central American Indian."

What keeps you tied to those roots?
"A sense of responsibility to learn and pass on the traditions of our people. I have a daughter now who is also Lumbee Indian from my wife's side. I definitely want to pass on our traditions to her so when she has children she can pass it on to them."

What is the most important thing about being an Airman and a Native American?
"Upholding the warrior spirit. Our people view our veterans today as they viewed the warriors of the past. We are looked up to. It's important to uphold honor, integrity, and respect for our country, uniform, service, and tribe. We are held to a higher standard. It's important that we represent ourselves as such, to be a good role model for our future warriors."

Who is the most influential Native American veteran in your opinion? Why?
"I know I should probably say Ely Parker, the first Native American Union general or Oklahoma Senator Enoch Kelly Haney, but the most influential Native American Veteran to me is Master Sgt. Gordon Roy, USAF, Vietnam veteran. He is a Ponca Indian and head advisor to the Ponca Hethuska Society. I first met him at a powwow in Shawnee, Okla. He took me under his wing, mentored me, and helped me learn the dance and songs. He helps everyone that wants to dance, and asks nothing in return, but that you dance and respect the ways. I wouldn't be the Indian I am today without his friendship and mentorship."

Is there anything you do to stay in touch with your heritage?
"I attend and dance at powwows throughout the country. I am a Tail Dancer for the Ponca Hethuska Warrior Society, and am also a Gourd Dancer. Additionally, I am champion Straight Dancer winning several powwow contests throughout Oklahoma. These dances are held by different societies and native organizations throughout the country. Most all of them are open to the public and I encourage everyone to attend. You will learn a great deal about our heritage by attending a powwow. Everyone is welcome at a powwow. All we ask is that you be respectful and have an open mind."

What role do you play in Native American Heritage Month?
"I am a teacher and advisor. I make sure I teach someone something new about our heritage each year to make sure our traditions and heritage is not forgotten."

How many years have you participated?
"I have participated every year since I joined the Air Force 15 years ago."