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UW Native American community hosts ceremony to 'call vets home'

Air Force veteran Katherine Pratt in front of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Pratt's detachment was responsible for the operational tests.
Courtesy of Katherine Pratt

For some military service members returning to civilian life can be disorienting.

The Native American community is reaching out to help vets with a modern day version of an ancient ceremony known as “calling home.”

Thursday night the University of Washington will honor Puget Sound veterans of all wars with a ceremony at the wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ  Intellectual House on the Seattle campus.

For Air Force veteran Katherine Pratt coming home didn’t feel like home at all.  The rituals were gone, so was the sense of purpose and camaraderie of military life.  

“It was so bizarre. It really was,” Pratt said.

All her life Pratt felt like she was involved in something bigger. She did team sports in high school  In college she was part of the Reserve Officers' Training Corp.  

When she returned to Seattle Pratt was surrounded by  family, but she still felt disconnected.

“I was glad to be done," Pratt said.  "But at the same time there was almost an emptiness of I no longer — and I'm going to use this in the broadest sense — but I no longer have a tribe."

Iisaaksiich  Braine understands the importance of tribe and transition.  Braine is a citizen of the Apsaalooke Crow Nation in southeast Montana.

The Crow are a warrior tribe. For centuries they’ve called the spirit of their warriors home through ceremony.  Even today  Braine said for his family and friends this ceremony is a sacred spiritual transition where everyone has a role and shares the burden.

“Because we see that if we don't go through this ceremony and someone comes home, they’re basically lost. And it takes a while," Braine said. "Those are the folks that need our extra care where I'm from and here (at UW) too. Some veterans need extra care. And so this is just our way of creating that space, creating that ceremony, creating those steps to return home."

As the tribal liaison for the UW Braine helped plan this week's ceremony.

For the first time veterans who are not members of the tribe will be able to participate in a modern day version of this ancient ceremony  at the wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ  Intellectual House on campus.

“We’re creating a ceremony to call the spirit of our warriors home. For those of us who are not veterans it's going to be eye opening, it's going to be a beautiful thing to share this with each other," Braine said.

Pratt is now a  Ph.D student in electrical engineering. She plans to participate in the ceremony to help find closure.  “Just knowing that there was an end, that I can then move forward," She said.

Pratt wants to  better integrate her military and civilian experiences to bridge understanding between the two groups.  She's active now with The UW group Husky United Military Veterans.  

"Part of what's important about being a veteran and being involved is people need to know that veterans come in all shapes, flavors, sizes," Pratt said. "I don't want people to assume certain things."

Braine hopes this ceremony brings a new perspective to veterans like Pratt and civilians who come forward to participate.

In his culture no veteran carries his or her service alone, Braine says this modern version of an ancient ceremony can be the start.