Preserving, remembering the Siksika Nation

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Scott Wagers
  • Air Force News Agency
Being a part of a warrior society has not only manifested in Andrea LaBoy's 25 years of continuous military service to the Air Force, it is also embedded in half of her ethnic lineage as a Siksika Indian, a tribe indigenous to southern Canada.

Having a father who is African American and a mother who is of the Siksika Nation, Ms. Laboy had what many Native Americans refer to as a "mainstream" upbringing (growing up outside a reservation) in Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

In junior high school, Ms. Laboy says she made up her mind to join the Air Force after eyeing a High School ROTC drill performance. "I thought their uniforms were cool...they had silver helmets and guns...and I said, 'That's for me.'"

Joining the Air Force in her late teens as a supply technician, Ms. LaBoy remembers feeling a growing "spiritual" desire to answer another simultaneous calling in her life.

"I made a conscious choice to learn more about my own people," she said.

Over the course of the next several years, Ms. Laboy began seeking out relatives on her mother's side and showing an interest in learning about her tribe's customs, dress, language, dance and ceremonies.

"When they saw they had one of their own coming back to learn our traditional ways, they were more than willing to teach me," she said. 

The Siksika Nation is a First Nation in southern Alberta, Canada. The name Siksika comes from the Blackfoot words sik (black) and ika (foot), with a connector between the two words. The plural form of Siksika is Siksikawa. The Siksikawa are the northernmost of the Niitsitapi (Original People).

The current population of the Siksika Nation is roughly 4,200 people. A notable member of the Siksika was Crowfoot, a chief of the Siksika Nation and a signer of Treaty 7.

While on active duty, Ms. Laboy became involved in Native American communities both on and off base wherever she was stationed. She is one of the first women to become a member of the Alamo Gourd Dance Society who she says was initially reluctant to admit her until she submitted a biography that detailed her military experiences.

"I was deployed for Desert Shield and Deny Flight and that means a lot to people of a warrior society," she said. "When they heard that, they really stuck up for me and successfully lobbied to have me inducted."

Ms. Laboy also belongs to the United San Antonio Powwow and the Witchita Intertribal Warriors Society Auxiliary.

Towards the end of a 21-year career where she retired as superintendent of the Military Equal Opportunity office at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. She was asked by the Fort Sam Houston Native American Heritage Committee to be the Head Lady Dancer for a pow-wow at Fort Sam Houston.

"My chief was coming down from Canada to escort me and bring my tribal flag and I wanted to wear traditional buckskin regalia, something I didn't have at the time."

To remedy the problem, Ms. Laboy drew upon her own observations of Siksika tribal dress and the teachings of her relatives and spent the next seven months making her own full-dress regalia that includes intricate beadwork, eagle feathers passed down from several generations, and interwoven shells that were once used for currency in trading by her tribe.

Now retired and working as an education counselor for the 435th Mission Support Squadron at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, she has again become active with the base Native American community.

"I am a very proud woman of the Siksika Nation and although my family was not able to stay with our people in Canada, they made sure our story, in full, was passed down and as the eldest daughter, of the eldest daughter for several generations back, I will make sure my son and all the young ones in my family do not forget!" 

Comment on this story (comments may be published on Air Force Link)

Click here to view the comments/letters page