FAIRMONT- The Martin County Historical Society held its annual meeting at the Red Rock Center for the Arts on Thursday evening. In addition to dinner and a review of the historical society’s operations over the past year, the meeting included a special presentation from Brenda McEwing about her life and experiences.
McEwing grew up in Martin County and served in the military for 23 years from the early 1980s through the late 2000s. She served combat duty in both Iraq wars. Since leaving the military, she has been active in the Lakota Women Warriors color guard and founded the First Nations Women Warriors; a non-profit organization that works with veterans in need.
McEwing was born in the Dakota Tipi First Nation in Manitoba. As a young child, McEwing and his siblings were taken from his family by the Canadian government and sent to live on a farm in rural Canada. After living on the farm for a year, McEwing and one of his younger brothers were adopted by the Hoffmeyer family in Sherburn. McEwing was unable to reconnect with her parents and two other siblings until the 1990s.
When McEwing was 18, she chose to join the military. She said she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father who was a prisoner of war during World War II, and also learn about different countries and cultures. While she had originally planned to enlist in the Marine Corps, when she visited the recruiting center, she spoke to the Army recruiter while waiting for the Navy recruiter to return from break.
“People ask, ‘Why the army?’ Let me tell you, because the Navy recruiter was out to lunch, “ McEwing said.
While in the military, McEwing worked in communications throughout her career. She said her experiences with the military taught her a lot, especially about valuing what she had.
“Don’t take life, family or friends for granted. We are given today but we are not guaranteed or promised tomorrow. If you ever get the chance to sit down and talk to your family, or take that moment to give your loved one a kiss on the cheek or whatever, do it because you don’t know. if you will ever manage to do so. that again,” McEwing said.
After leaving the military in 2007, McEwing began filling her absence with nonprofit work.
“When I first left the army…you feel like you’ve lost something; you don’t know what it is” McEwing said.
Together with her husband, she started working with various non-profit initiatives.
In 2012, McEwing became a member of the Lakota Women Warriors color guard; an all-female, Native American veteran color guard. She performed with the band at powwows, major league sporting events, the New York City Veterans Day Parade, and the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Parade. Often the band would pay the performance fee out of his own pocket. She says the organization’s goal is to inspire other Native American veterans.
“In our original culture, so many times men still haven’t accepted that women are also warriors, so there’s always this fight,” McEwing said.
Despite his involvement in these groups, McEwing felt the need to volunteer more.
“In the end, I didn’t feel like it was enough. something was missing and I needed more,” McEwing said.
After discussing it with her husband, she decided to create First Nations female warriors; a non-profit organization dedicated to providing housing and other services to veterans.
“It’s such an overwhelming feeling in your heart when you have this ability to take a set of keys to a house and hand it to someone who in their life has never had a house,” McEwing said.
First Nations Women Warriors was able to deliver their first home to a Vietnam veteran in December 2020, but operations have largely been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic. She hopes to be back in business soon once fundraising events are more feasible and she has more time available in her schedule.
McEwing now lives in Canton, Georgia; a suburb of Atlanta. She is the first woman from her tribe to receive an Eagle Staff; one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on warriors. She still plays with the Lakota Women Warriors. Between two trips, she works with her husband in his law firm. As of this writing, she is traveling to Laramie Wyoming to witness the birth of her first grandchild.