Preserving and remembering the Siksika Nation

Story and photo by Master Sgt. Donald Wagers
Air Force News

***image1***Having a father who is Black and a mother who is of the Siksika Nation – a tribe who’s reserve is in Calgary, Canada, Andrea 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 seeing 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 troop, Ms. LaBoy remembers feeling a growing desire to answer another simultaneous calling in her life. “I made a conscious choice to learn more about my own people,” she said.

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.

As her Air Force career progressed, she also became active in Native American coummunities both on and off base wherever she was stationed. She is a member of the Alamo Gourd Dance Society, United San Antonio Powwow and the Witchita Intertribal Warriors Society Auxiliary.

Toward the end of her active duty career, where she retired as Superintendent of Military Equal Opportunity 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 powwow at Fort Sam Houston.
“My chief came down from Canada to escort me and to bring my tribal flag and I wanted to wear traditional buckskin regalia – something I didn’t have at the time,” she said.

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 included intricate beadwork and eagle feathers passed down from several generations.

Now retired and working as an education counselor for the 435th Mission Support Squadron at Ramstein, 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. 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.”