JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – “Hearing the drum and watching the dancers is awesome. Something inside of me comes to life and gives me a happy energy.”
This is how Missouri Air National Guard Master Sgt. Mary Lohnes describes participating in tribal ceremonies. Though her legal name is Mary, where she is from, this is not how she is known.
“At home, I go by the name Kristy, short for Kristine, my middle name,” said Lohnes. When she returned from her last deployment, her MiSunkaNah Hunka, or adopted brother, gave her the name Akicita Okichize Win, which means “Fighting Warrior Woman.” Much like her name, there is a lot you can learn about Lohnes.
Lohnes is a knowledge manager for the 139th Airlift Wing’s Communications Flight (139th AW/CF). While this is where she has worked for the past 15 years, her background is quite diverse. She spent eight years on active duty with the Army, four years in the Army National Guard, and three more years as Active Guard Reserve (AGR). She has 30 years of recognized service.
“I am grateful to the military, especially the 139th AW, for the experience. … I have gotten to travel, meet people of many cultures and backgrounds … everyone brings something to the table. (The military has provided) many opportunities to broaden and improve myself and others,” said Lohnes.
Lohnes is Sisseton/Wahpeton Dakota and Chippewa, an official member of the Spirit Lake Nation in Fort Totten, North Dakota. She lived on the Spirit Lake Reservation until seventh grade, at which point she attended an Indian boarding school in Pierre, South Dakota. Following her eighth grade graduation, she transferred to Flandreau Indian Boarding school to complete the ninth grade. She graduated from Marty Mission Indian School in Marty, South Dakota, and joined the Army during her senior year.
Lohnes drew inspiration to serve in the military from several places.
“I would watch these men perform certain dances and ceremonies with much respect. I would look at the pictures of my grandfather and uncle in their uniforms and admire them for being brave. (This is) where it all started with joining the military. Veterans are highly honored by all Native tribes.”
Living and serving in Missouri does make things more difficult.
“I live 400 miles from home. The last ceremony I attended was a Sweat or sweat lodge … a name-giving ceremony for my daughter that my brother helped set up.”
Despite geographical separation from the Nation, she attends an annual Wacipi, or powwow, every July. She also attends an annual Wacipi in August with the Kickapoo tribe, where her aunt is a member.
Lohnes practices smaller traditions privately. One such tradition is Smudging. This ceremony uses a smoke bath to purify the body, aura, energy, personal article, dwelling or other space. She taught the practice to her daughter and uses it for herself and home.
Another way she maintains her culture is as an artist working with small beads. She uses traditional stitches to bead intricate designs on regalia. Lohnes has used these skills to make outfits for her daughter, baby moccasins and other projects. She made one such outfit for her daughter’s first Wacipi.
Lohnes tries to take her daughter to ceremonies when she can. “I feel sad that my daughter hasn’t been around much of her culture. I miss the music, oyate’ (community) and tiospe’ (family).”
While COVID-19 has added complications, it hasn’t stopped the culture.
“Wacipi is the most popular social gathering for all native people. Due to COVID-19, there is a social distance powwow on Facebook. It is nice to get some culture in listening to good drum music and beautiful dancing,” said Lohnes.
The tribes work to be together. One of the ways this is done is something called powwow trail, a series of events throughout the summer enabling members to see each other and participate in multiple Wacipi.
Getting together has much value. Lohnes has come to recognize the strength gained, and similarities in both Native culture and the military. Both cultures make up the person.
“As with any community, belonging to a group that is unique (as in my tribe and with the 139th AW), empowers me to live the Air Force values: service before self; integrity first; excellence in all we do; and as much, to be humble and serve others,” said Lohnes.