As the sound of drums reverberated through the Mid-America All-Indian Center on Sunday, Army veteran Cathy Gillespie waited and listened for the voice of equality.
She's been waiting for 20 years.
In many American Indian cultures, "the warriors were the protectors and it is kind of specific for a certain gender," the Desert Storm veteran, who is Cherokee, said as she watched men performing gourd dances at the Wichita Intertribal Warrior Society Veterans Powwow.
The all-male Intertribal Warrior Society was formed by American Indian veterans in 1986 to honor and promote the customs of its member tribes. Besides hosting the annual veterans powwow, the group helps local American Indians with college tuition for youth and assistance for elders who may be financially struggling.
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As female veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan, some have asked to join the warrior society, Gillespie said. Their option has been to join the women's auxiliary.
Now they have another choice. The first meeting of the Wichita Women's Intertribal Warrior Society is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Indian Center.
"In today's society, the women have also picked up arms," Gillespie said. "We are wanting to get the women veterans together because women are coming back with the same problems and everything that men have had. Post-traumatic stress disorder is not gender specific. It is time for women warriors to stand up."
"We are veterans. We have been warriors," she said.
Gillespie said she believes the Wichita Women's Intertribal Warrior Society may be the first of its kind in the nation. Women who want to join can be of any ethnic background.
For more than two decades, Charlie Harjo has participated in every powwow hosted by the society. The group was originally formed by area World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans.
Harjo, who is of Choctaw and Creek
heritage, was a soldier in Vietnam.
"When I joined... I'd see different men praying for wars to end, where families wouldn't be torn apart," he said. "I see these men and women now that go off and fight. It is a different era and time. War affects not only male veterans but female veterans."
American Indians will continue supporting veterans, Harjo said.
"We believe the Creator gave the drum to Native Americans," Harjo said. "The Good Lord composed songs and gave them to the singers to help other people. The drums can make you feel what you don't want to feel. It is like a counselor. Some of these men and women didn't come home the way they went. It is their soul that gets hurt."
The warrior societies, he said, are all about veterans helping other veterans.
"War holds no color or gender."