Takara Matthews dressed for her inaugural appearance
Dressed in a white, handmade dress with otter pelts tied into her hair, Takara Matthews flashed across the screen for just a few seconds during President Joe Biden’s inaugural ceremony on January 20.
But the Franklin County woman says she was proud to represent her state, her Abenaki culture, and her career as a member of the military.
“It’s never about me,” Matthews said. “It’s about representing my people. I just want to make people proud.”
Matthews is a member of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi in Swanton, where she grew up; her parents were also of Mohawk, Lumbee and Muskogee descent. She served in the U.S. Coast Guard and then the U.S. Air Force as a member of the Vermont Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing. She left the service in 2015 — on July 4th, she noted — and a couple of years later was recruited to join the Native American Women Warriors, a Colorado-based veterans group.
The volunteer organization performs color guard details across the country and has a network that provides support to other veterans — women, Native American or not — who are dealing with PTSD or need other assistance.
“It’s just embedded in my blood to always help,” Matthews said.
At powwows as a child, Matthews grew up performing women’s fancy shawl dance, a frenetic, “very vigorous” routine, she said. She also took up women’s jingle dress dancing, a routine meant to represent, and help with, healing. She’s used that experience as a member of the Native American Women Warriors, giving talks at schools and conferences and appearing at ceremonies and memorials for museum openings, veterans events, or even presidential inaugurations.
The group applied to participate in Biden’s big day. Founder Mitchelene BigMan handmade Matthews’ glittery white dress, which featured dog tags across the skirt; Matthews called it a modified jingle dress. She also donned leggings, moccasins and put beadwork in her hair. She adorned each of her braids with pieces of otter pelt.
The Women Warriors all saluted in the video from their various states as part of the Parade Across America portion of the inaugural ceremony.
“We are the Native American Women Warriors,” BigMan said as the video’s narrator. “The nation’s first all-female Native American color guard. Our mission is to recognize women veterans that have served in our American armed forces, especially those like us, of Native descent. We are here today, from across the country, for this historic event. Congratulations President Biden and Vice President Harris!”
Matthews said her 16-year-old daughter shot the clip of her beside their snow-covered driveway. Another woman in the video was also labeled as from Vermont, but Matthews said that was an error.
“I originally was going to do a covered bridge to represent Vermont,” Matthews said with a laugh, “but with my work schedule and I have three kids — I just ran out of time.”
Matthews’ grandfather served in the Navy in World War II and her father served two tours in Vietnam. He died of cancer last April, so Matthews said participating in the inauguration was a huge honor done in her father’s memory.
“I know I make him proud. It was such an important moment for me have that represented and be able to, somehow and someway, represent my country,” Matthews said. “Even if it’s just by color guard, through the Native American Women Warriors, that makes me very, very proud of who I am and what I represent.”