Earlier this week I was honored to participate in an event here at USDA that marked National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. Billy Mills, 1964 Olympic Gold Medalist addressed a capacity audience, sharing his life story and observations about how America and the world’s diversity can be a force, not to drive us apart, but to bring us together.
Starting life on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Billy Mills lost his mother at an early age. He rose in life to serve America in the military and to come from behind to win the 10,000 meter run at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Mr. Mills told us that “We live in strange times, but with change comes an incredible opportunity.” He called for all of us to compromise, “Work together, Unity through Diversity” or opportunity disappears.”
He also touched on the stereotypes that plague Native Americans, and how to “heal a broken heart and soul” by remaining true to Native American virtues and values and “value based empowerment.” How forsaking alcohol and recreational drug use opened his life to opportunities, including traveling the world and raising millions of dollars for charity.
Billy Mills urged the crowd here at USDA to “Use the virtue of wisdom, look beyond the hate and find the dream…look to where your dreams lie.” The great athlete Jesse Owens, said Mills, said that “Everybody should have a dream, every dream has a passion and every passion has a destiny.” We were all empowered by Billy’s message to us, and especially his final words, which empowered us to “Build a better America and in doing so, build a better world. Global unity through diversity, the future of humankind.”
Our office would also like to thank Rusty Gillette of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. He concluded the cultural component of our event through both dance and discussion. His explanation of the variety and differences among Alaska Native and American Indian traditions and customs was an important lesson for USDA employees to realize when working in Tribal Affairs every tribe is unique. He also gave a wonderful grass dance demonstration to further illustrate the active and adaptive practice of cultural customs and traditional alive today.
I would also personally like to give a tremendous heartfelt thank you to Mr. Ramdass Monshi and his staff who are responsible for the success of this event. I would also like to thank my Office of Tribal Relations staff including Toni Stanger the mistress of ceremonies, as well as all of the NAWG members who volunteered their time.