It’s considered an honor for anyone who’s NOT a native Alaskan to be given a native name, so when Air Force Lt. Gen. Ken Wilsbach recently was given not one, but THREE native names – well, I’m sure you can figure out what a monumental honor that was.
Wilsbach is the first U.S. military general in history to be given multiple native Alaskan names. The Alaskan Federation of Natives said they did so as a thank-you for his efforts over the past few years to strengthen alliances and partnerships between the state’s native people and the military.
Wilsbach is the commander of Alaskan NORAD region, Alaskan Command and the 11th Air Force. During his time in our most northern state, he’s helped build unity in emergency response and awareness of the critical role Alaska plays in national defense and security. He’s also created trust and helped promote the importance of working with the native people to complete the mission.
Video by Air Force Senior Airman Jared Bunn
During a ceremony that included an exchange of gifts and cultural performances, Wilsbach was given these names:
Name: Kaa Niyaanoowu
Meaning: Protector of the people
Why: “Warriors have a very special place in our society, and we – thinking of you, general – wanted to give you a name befitting of the person that you have become,” said Tlingit representative Dr. Rosita Worl. “We thank you for your service, and we thank you for all that you’ve given and that your family has given to us. It is our deep honor to give you a Tlingit name.”
Meaning: Fierce presence/polar bear
Why: “Your life and career epitomize the great Alaskan nanuk, whose native range lies largely within the Arctic Circle,” said Inupiat representative Gail Schubert. “You have demonstrated a professional commitment to protect the Arctic for national security purposes. We are safer as a country and state because of that.”
Meaning: Someone who was made strong
Why: “When you least expect it … the spirit [of the name] can enter you and give you the strength you need at that time,” said Yup’ik representative Andrew Guy.
A fourth tribe, the Athabascan, also honored Wilsbach with a traditional chief’s necklace. “In order for a person to wear them with honor, they have to be a gift or presented to them,” said Alaskan Federation of Natives board co-chair Will Mayo.
“I’m almost speechless for what a feeling I have here today,” Wilsbach said as he accepted his gifts. “It takes a special kind of people to survive and thrive here. If you’re operating in the Arctic and you’re not in tight with the native community and indigenous people that live here, you’re missing out on a lot.”
He and his wife thanked the tribal leaders and those who turned out to honor him.
“We can’t tell you how much we appreciate it. We love this place and we love you, and we’re just so honored by this ceremony,” Wilsbach said. “What a great partnership we’ve had, and really – more importantly – the friendship.”
Wilsbach is set to move on to a new assignment, but these names mean he will always bear the spirit of Alaska.
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