Academy Prayer Lunch features Native-American speaker D.J. “Eagle Bear” Vanas

D.J. "Eagle Bear" Vanas, a motivational speaker and member of the Odawa Nation, speaks to cadets and staff Feb. 16, 2017 at the Prayer Lunch hosted by the U.S. Air Force Academy. Vanas, a 1993 graduate of the Academy, spoke about the importance of accepting the spiritual practices of others and how a spiritual belief system can lead to holistic growth. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

D.J. "Eagle Bear" Vanas, a motivational speaker and member of the Odawa Nation, speaks to cadets and staff Feb. 16, 2017 at the Prayer Lunch hosted by the U.S. Air Force Academy. Vanas, a 1993 graduate of the Academy, spoke about the importance of accepting the spiritual practices of others and how a spiritual belief system can lead to holistic growth. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

D.J. "Eagle Bear" Vanas, a motivational speaker and member of the Odawa Nation, speaks to cadets and staff Feb. 16, 2017 at the Prayer Lunch hosted by the U.S. Air Force Academy. Vanas, a 1993 graduate of the Academy, spoke about the importance of accepting the spiritual practices of others and how a spiritual belief system can lead to holistic growth. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

D.J. "Eagle Bear" Vanas, a motivational speaker and member of the Odawa Nation, speaks to cadets and staff Feb. 16, 2017 at the Prayer Lunch hosted by the U.S. Air Force Academy. Vanas, a 1993 graduate of the Academy, spoke about the importance of accepting the spiritual practices of others and how a spiritual belief system can lead to holistic growth. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --

A Native-American motivational speaker said Feb. 16 that spiritual faith only has merit when it’s practiced.


D.J. “Eagle Bear” Vanas spoke to cadets and staff at the Prayer Lunch here, an offshoot of this month’s National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.


“Our spiritual faith doesn’t mean much unless we practice it daily,” he said.


Vanas, a 1993 Academy graduate, is a member of the Odawa Nation, a Native-American Tribe that settled near Lake Huron, Michigan and Ottawa, Canada. 


“Our spirituality makes us strong from the inside-out,” he said. “It strengthens and sustains us.”


Vanas’ faith helped him cope with the death of his newborn son in 2003.


“I felt like I couldn’t take another step forward,” he said.


Thanks to his spiritual practices, Vanas said he turned tragedy into a learning experience and became a better parent to his two children.

  

“When we practice our spiritual faith, we make better decisions,” he said. “Most of what happens in life is neutral until we attach meaning to it. If you’re lucky, you’ll have the opportunity to put your faith in practice and grow.”


Vanas advocated for a generosity of spirit in accepting the spiritual practices of others.


“Faith should never be used as a ‘bully pulpit’ or a weapon to hurt other people,” he said.


Cadet 1st Class Sarah MacKinnon, president of the Cadet Interfaith Council, said the Academy is a safe and tolerant environment for cadets of any faith.


“Through diversity of thought, we’re a stronger institution,” she said. “As a cadet, I’ve strengthened my faith with the help of others on their journey regardless of their religious beliefs. By being stronger individuals, we’re a stronger team.”


Devotion to a spiritual belief system leads to holistic growth, Vanas said.


“We practice our faith so we can become better versions of ourselves,” he said.