In Kiowa society, men traditionally were the leaders and warriors. Feathered war bonnets were owned by men but were also worn by female relatives during “scalp and victory dances” held to honor returning male warriors. Later, Kiowa men veterans placed bonnets on women who had served in the military or on delegations. Yet only male veterans tended to serve as color guards—those who open or close ceremonies and powwows by carrying the flags of their tribe, the United States and branches of the U.S. armed forces.
So when Kiowa veterans Marine Lance Corporal Kimberly Toyekoyah and U.S. Army Sergeants LaRue Gouladdle and Darlene Faye Sankadota-Sanders were asked to do so at the Kiowa Black Leggings Warrior Society event in 2011, they were surprised. Although more than 80 Kiowa women have served in U.S. armed forces since World War II and some were sometimes included in Kiowa color guards, this was the first time a group of all Kiowa women did so. Afterwards, a woman invited them to serve as a color guard at a powwow. Toyekoyah said the group first consulted elders and male veterans, who told them as they were veterans and Kiowa women have been warriors, they had the right to wear feather war bonnets. The Kiowa Women Warriors color guard was born.
Kiowa veterans Sergeant Randi L. Waters Sunray, Master Sergeant Loy K. Anquoe Apriesnig and Sergeant First Class Audrey Svitak have since joined the group, which has served as a color guard at many powwows and other events across the country. The Kiowa Women Warriors are one of a growing number of Native women veteran color guards in the Canada and the United States.
One of the Kiowa Women Warriors’ goals has been to promote equal treatment of women as veterans, as many of its members say they experienced discrimination while serving in the military and have received little recognition as veterans. They also try to be positive role models for younger women and educate those considering military service about potential benefits and risks. “Just give me that respect, that I’m a veteran,” Guoladdle said. “It has nothing to do with being male or female.”