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City of Grand Rapids gives permission for pro-US Military group to use Ah Nab Awen Park for an event that will land a US Military UH 72 Lakota helicopter

May 15, 2023

In the Tuesday, May 9th Committee of the Whole Agenda packet for the Grand Rapids City Commission, there is a list of upcoming special events that need approval by the City.

One of the events that was approved by the City of Grand Rapids reads:

Major Aime Kemppainen of Armed Forces Thanksgiving is requesting permission for a UH 72 Lakota helicopter to land in Ah-Nab-Awen Park on Friday, May 19, 2023, at 7:00 AM and depart at 12:00 PM as part of their annual event. GRPD and the Parks Department would approve this event.

So, let me get this straight. The City of Grand Rapids has approved an event that includes the landing of a US Military helicopter named after a Native Nation (Lakota), that will land at a park with an Indigenous name, on land that was stolen from Indigenous people, in order to teach young people about the contributions US Military personnel have made – even though the US Military killed and forcibly removed countless Indigenous people, specifically in the 19th Century,

According to the group Armed Forces Thanksgiving:

The Armed Forces Thanksgiving event was created in 2014 by a group of Grand Rapids businessmen with the objective of raising awareness and dialogue on the contributions our military personnel have made – and continue to make – on behalf of their families, friends, and country. The annual event provides a vehicle for our community, from teens to adults, to understand, honor, and express thanks for the service of those who have served or are serving in our Armed Forces.

Unless I am mistaken, there are already numerous holidays dedicated to honoring people who were in the US military, such as Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, arguably the 4th of July, and the now 9/11 commemorations, which also include US military personnel. There there are the countless ways that US military personnel and US militarism are inserted into the dominant culture, such as at sporting events and parades. 

Then there is the issue of US Militarism and Indigenous people. The US military has long referred to enemy areas as “Indian Country”, and they often refer to US military campaigns using Indigenous names, such as the US military campaign to hunt down Osama bin Laden, which was called Operation Geronimo. Then, there are the literally more than two dozen US Military aircraft that use Indigenous names. And of course, the US Military often claims as the primary argument for including Indigenous names for US Military equipment as a sign of “respect” and as a way to “honor Native Americans.” These claims are hollow and meaningless, especially since the primary relationship that the US Military has had with Indigenous people and Indigenous nations has been to kill Indigenous people, to displace them, to conquer them, with the stated goal of US territorial expansion. This has essentially been the relationship that the US Military has had with Indigenous people since the colonies became the United States of America. 

It’s bad enough that the group Armed Forces Thanksgiving has organized this event, but it is even more frustrating and insulting that the City of Grand Rapids has approved this event. Do those at the City of Grand Rapids not see how offensive and insulting this event is to Indigenous sovereignty? Do they not see how this event on May 19th normalizes Settler Colonialism and erases the legacy of conquest by the US Military of Indigenous peoples?

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