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Quilts honor Native women vets

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Sgt. Marie Nickoli (Koyukon Athabascan), from Farmington, with the U.S. Marine Corps, is awarded a Quilt of Valor during the Veterans Day ceremony in Santa Fe on Monday, Nov. 11. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Images of the humpbacked flute player known as Kokopelli have been seen around New Mexico since the eighth century, on pottery, petroglyphs and more recently on souvenirs.

In a world of cultural appropriation run rampant, it was fitting to see the trickster god who presides over fertility adorning colorful quilts presented to six Native American women veterans at the City of Santa Fe’s Veterans Day Ceremony on Nov. 11.

Traditionally, the blankets distributed by the Quilts of Valor Foundation have been red, white and blue, but the ones awarded to the six New Mexico veterans were made of boldly colored squares that coordinated with the Native outfits worn by the recipients.

One of the women receiving quilts on Monday was Spc. 4 Laris Manuelito (Navajo), a Gallup resident who was a member of the New Mexico Army National Guard from 2006-12 and who served in Iraq from 2009-10. Manuelito said she left the service in 2012 to take care of a family illness.

Still, she said, “If I were called back again, I would go without hesitation because that is what a warrior does, just like my Great-Grandfather War Chief Manuelito.”

The Quilts of Valor Foundation grew out of a dream, literally, of founder Catherine Roberts of Seaford, Delaware, whose son Nat was serving in Iraq.

According to the foundation’s website, “The dream was vivid as real life. I saw a young man sitting on the side of his bed in the middle of the night, hunched over. … I could see his war demons clustered around, dragging him down. … Then, as if viewing a movie, I saw him in the next scene wrapped in a quilt. His whole demeanor changed from one of despair to one of hope and well-being,” said Roberts.

The first Quilt of Valor was awarded in November 2003 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to a young soldier from Minnesota who lost his leg in Iraq. Since then, more than 234,000 quilts have been made by hand and distributed to veterans across the country by the nonprofit foundation whose website says it is “not about politics, it is about people.”

The Santa Fe presentation of the quilts to the six Native women was coordinated by retired Army officer Dorothy Seaton, who is a member of the Santa Fe’s Veteran’s Advisory Board and a board member of the New Mexico Military Museum Foundation, and Patricia Forshaw of Albuquerque, who represented Quilts of Valor.

In addition to Manuelito, the other women who were awarded quilts are:

Staff Sgt. Mary Ann Bullhead (Diné/Lakota) of Rio Rancho, with the New Mexico Army National Guard, speaks with Sgt. Marie Nickoli (Koyukon Athabascan), from Farmington after being awarded a Quilt of Valor during the Veterans Day ceremony in Santa Fe on Nov. 11. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

• Staff Sgt. Mary Ann Bullhead (Diné/Lakota), a resident of Rio Rancho who served in the Navy in the 1990s and the New Mexico Army National Guard for 15 years ending in February. She was an electrician’s mate during Desert Storm and a member of the U.S. military police in Iraq.

• Hospital corpsman Povi Cruz Threlkeld, a native of Ohkay Owingeh who served at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Bainbridge, Maryland, from 1952-54.

• Sgt. Marie J. Nickoli (Koyukon Athabascan), a resident of Farmington who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2001-9. Today, she is a member of the Upper Fruitland Color and Honor Guard on the Navajo Nation.

• Sgt. Michelle Kemmeren (Navajo) of Albuquerque, a paralegal specialist who has been a member of the New Mexico Army National Guard since 2008.

• Sgt. Cadence Kionut (Zuni/Pawnee/Caddo), a Zuni resident who served in the U.S. Army from 1999 to 2013 and was deployed to Iraq. Kionut, a member of a drum team that acts as ambassadors for Native American veterans, performed in Iraq for a Native American Appreciation Month celebration in November 2007. Her drum from that performance is now in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Kionut was unable to attend the Santa Fe ceremony.