Farmington — It was difficult not to pause and listen to the singing and drum beat echoing through the halls of the Henderson Fine Arts Center Friday.
The sound was coming from the Honoring Our Veterans Gourd Dance.
Before the dance started, Larry Anderson of the Black Creek Gourd Society and three men blessed the arena in the four directions. Then the Upper Fruitland Honor Guard walked onto the arena floor with flags representing the United States and each of the military branches.
As the honor guard moved around the arena, some veterans saluted while other placed their hands over their hearts.
After the invocation, the dance started, and the men stood and shook their gourds in sync with the rhythm.
This was the first time a gourd dance was held at San Juan College, and it was sponsored by the Veterans Center and the Native American Center.
San Juan College President Toni Pendergrass thanked the veterans for their service and for attending the event.
"I realize the importance of these ceremonies," Pendergrass said.
Dana Ellison, a volunteer with the Native American Center, explained that the gourd dance is in honor of veterans.
Ellison volunteered in honor of his grandfather, the late Navajo Code Talker Jimmie King Sr.
"It's honoring those who are still in the service and those who have gone on," Ellison said.
During a break in the dance, Navajo Code Talker Thomas H. Begay talked about his military service, which included deployments in World War II and the Korean War.
Begay said two code talkers lost their lives during his first day on Iwo Jima.
"I asked a code talker, 'Where's our guard?' But we had no such person to guard us. We were in combat," he said.
Leonard Anthony of the White Eagle Gourd Society served as the master of ceremonies and explained that the gourd dance originated from the Kiowa Tribe as a warriors' dance but has evolved into a dance for veterans.
"This dance is like a therapy for them," Anthony said. "When they dance, when they shake that rattle ... he wants to forgive everything. He wants to heal."Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.