Saturday is a historic day for the Sac & Fox Nation of Oklahoma.

As part of the tribe's annual Powwow, taking place on their current-day reservation in Stroud, Okla., a decommissioned Black Hawk helicopter -- named by the U.S. Army nearly 50 years ago in honor of Sauk leader Black Hawk -- will be unveiled as a permanent monument at the Sac & Fox war memorial.

"In a sense, it's coming home," explained Rickey Cline Sr., a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Sac & Fox tribe member. "To get to have it roost here as its final resting place and something that we can reflect on, it's very proud and honorable for our veterans -- not only our veterans but all the veterans in general."

Historically, Native Americans have the highest record of military service per capita than any other ethnic groups. As part of the tribal culture, the veterans are held in the highest regard. The legacy of Black Hawk runs deep through the Sac & Fox people, and to now have a permanent memorial representing both their current-day veterans and the tribe's distinguished war leader, is immensely special.

"This specific helicopter is symbolic to our tribe just in its name," Cline Sr. continued. "Black Hawk was a fierce leader, a war leader, who was Sac & Fox, and so us veterans look up to Black Hawk… We take that as an honor as a veteran."

"Black Hawk, he crosses the mind of all our veterans," explained Sac & Fox historian Juaquin Hamilton. "He was known for his abilities on the battlefield. He was a teenager when he earned his feathers and his paint, and historically in our culture, in those days, that's how you gained your feathers and your paint: through your abilities on the battlefield. Nowadays, our veterans are honored with the feather for their services, for fighting for this country."


Saturday's dedication ceremony marks the culmination of more than a decade of work by the Sac & Fox people to bring a namesake helicopter home.

"It's just hit red tape after red tape," Cline Sr. said of the lengthy process. "We just got thrown curveball after curveball and we just stayed consistent at it. With our relationship with the Blackhawks (organization), we felt a renewed sense of energy to push forward. We mentioned (our longtime goal) to the Blackhawks folks, the leaders there, and it gained momentum again."

Together, the Blackhawks and the Sac & Fox Nation leaders worked to secure the first ever donation of its kind from the U.S. Army to a tribal nation.

In 2021, the U.S. Army officially approved the long-standing request to bring a Black Hawk helicopter home -- one adorning the tail number 82-23712. This specific helicopter was put into service in 1983, serving across the U.S. with stops at forts in Kentucky, Georgia and with the Maine National Guard. In 2003, it was deployed to Kuwait during the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the first of three tours of duty in Iraq through 2016, when it was retired from U.S. Army fleet. It continued serving military duty with the Afghanistan Air Force before, while back in the U.S. for maintenance, U.S. troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan. That's when the aircraft was returned to the U.S. Army to find a new home, one that now sees it serve its final assignment in Oklahoma.


During the decommissioning process, the Sac & Fax Nation asked that 82-23712 take on a sacred meaning, Wêtâthêwaki, the Sauk word for warrior, now painted prominently on its side.

"We wanted to recognize (our veterans)," Cline Sr. said. "It's to recognize our veterans for past, present and future."
Now that the Black Hawk helicopter is at home with its namesake's present-day tribe, it will serve as a point of pride for Sac & Fox veterans, and veterans from all walks of life.

"All our veterans have their own story to tell. When they come back and they can see this helicopter, hoisted above our nation, they can reflect on their past," Cline Sr. said. "We want to share that with everybody, not just our community members or not just our veterans, but all veterans in general."