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Students learn about Native American history and culture from Dr. Laurie Rush, Fort Drum Cultural Resources program manager, during a presentation Nov. 1 inside LeRay Mansion. Fort Drum family members craft pottery design patterns using Play-Doh during a presentation on Native American history. The Fort Drum Relocation Readiness Program staff worked with the Cultural Resources Branch staff to host the community event during Native American Heritage Month. (Photos by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

Family members explore Native American history at Fort Drum

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Nov. 1, 2023) – Long before Soldiers arrived at Fort Drum there were Native American tribes who hunted, fished, and camped on these lands.

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, Fort Drum family members visited LeRay Mansion on Nov. 1 to learn more about the earliest settlers of the North Country.

“They first came here over 14,000 years ago, when the glaciers were melting at the end of the Ice Age,” said Dr. Laurie Rush, Fort Drum Cultural Resources program manager. “As soon as there was a little bit of land, one of the first things they were doing here was hunting caribou.”

Rush showed the group a variety of spear and projectile points that have been discovered and catalogued by archaeologists at Fort Drum.

“These projectile points go through all different time periods, as Native Americans continued to live here until the Army purchased the land in 1940,” she said. “Some of these points, we think, were for special ceremonies – like burials – and others were broken during the course of hunting.”

Rush said that Native Americans would melt resin from pine trees to make glue to help fasten the points to make spears and arrows. Attendees also learned how wampum shells were used to make necklaces and ceremonial belts that symbolize agreements with other tribes or nations.

The Cultural Resources Branch has examples of these and other gifts in their collection provided by Fort Drum’s three partner nations.

“We are nation partners with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, the Onondaga Nation and the Oneida Indian Nation, because they have ancestors buried here at Fort Drum,” Rush said. “So when they have clan mothers and other heads of state come to Fort Drum, they are treated just like a visiting prime minister or president from around the world.”

The presentation ended with an art project where students dug into mounds of Play-Doh to replicate design patterns from pieces of pottery, using tools similar to what Native Americans might use.

Kara Browning, Relocation Readiness Program educator, worked with Rush on the history presentation to coincide with the start of Native American Heritage Month.

“I knew I wanted to do some sort of educational event about our Native American neighbors, as I feel that there is a lot of history up here that people are not aware of,” she said. “Especially with a military population that tends to be more transient, a lot of our community members never have the opportunity to learn about things like this while they are here.”

Browning said the idea was to provide people with a fun, educational experience, and to lean on the expertise of Rush, who has researched extensively on Native American tribes in the Northeast and serves as the Native American affairs liaison for the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum.

“I feel that this event fits within the scope of Relocation Readiness Program’s mission of helping newcomers learn about where they live,” Browning said.

“And we were fortunate to have someone like Dr. Rush to lead the event, as she has this vast knowledge base to draw from,” she added.

Rush said she enjoyed sharing her knowledge about Native American history and culture and answering all the students’ questions during the presentation.

“It’s an incredible privilege,” she said. “And I don’t get the chance to talk on this subject as often as I’d like. I have an amazing job at Fort Drum, but I think the greatest honor has been being the garrison commander’s liaison with our three partner nations. That really means a lot to me.”

Earlier in the day, Col. Matthew Braman, 10th Mountain Division (LI) deputy commander for support, spoke to roughly 400 veterans in Verona during the Oneida Indian Nation’s 22nd annual Veterans Recognition Ceremony. Later this month, the 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade will host a Native American Heritage Month observance at Po Valley Chapel.

To learn more about Native American Heritage Month and the stories of American Indians and Alaska Natives who served in the military, visit