As Veterans Day fast approaches, many Americans take time to honor family and friends who have sacrificed so much to serve this country. In Tribal communities across the United States, veterans are honored for their bravery, their service, and for some, their ultimate sacrifice. Our Native American Warriors have long defended our homeland in a myriad of ways, both close to home by honoring and protecting our natural world, and far away in distant lands fighting under the U.S. flag alongside our American brothers and sisters-in-arms. For many, being part of the Armed Forces is an honor and the continuation of the military service of generations of family members. Native Americans historically have had the highest per-capita commitment of any ethnic population to defend the United States. This is emblematic of the dedication that we have to our home and country.
Most know the story of how the Navajo Code Talkers created a turning point in World War II by creating codes that Axis forces could not crack. Many also recognize famous faces like Ira Hayes, one of the brave men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima. What some fail to realize, however, is the important roles that patriotism and national pride have among Native Americans and within our communities.
This pride is perhaps best articulated by Native American author Elizabeth Rule who writes, “The importance of patriotism to Native Americans extends beyond mere pride in the United States—it represents unity, identity, and the reconnection of the circle.” The spirit of a warrior is inherent in many Tribal people, and is an identity proudly undertaken over a lifetime.
“The importance of patriotism to Native Americans extends beyond mere pride in the United States—it represents unity, identity, and the reconnection of the circle.”
The history of Native Americans participating in American conflicts extends back to the very beginning. Just by their first arrival on the continent, Europeans set a stage that forever changed a way of life that was in place for millennia. Despite those changes, a deep belief in home, community, country, and freedom meant that many Native Americans felt a natural call to serve and fight to protect not just their immediate homeland, but the United States as a whole. Even the most controversial conflicts, such as the Vietnam War, saw Tribal members volunteer for service in record numbers. In fact, more than 42,000 Native Americans served in Vietnam, and it is estimated that 90% were volunteers.
Protecting your home is protecting the very essence of the land you stand on and for. As Chief Seattle of the Suquamish Nation said in his famous Treaty Oration in 1884, “Every part of this soil is sacred.” As Native Americans, the land is not just where we live, but rather an integral part of life, a core part of our home and community, and an important aspect of our Tribal identity. Today, Tribes from around the country and world have gathered to protect the land and water, recognizing that both provide for life.
This Veteran’s Day, as you reflect on those closest to you who have served our country, take a moment to remember the dedication of Native Americans who have also sacrificed to protect their country, their land, and their heritage. Remember the Native American Warriors, whose deeply rooted pride and devotion led to the protection of freedom and the land we all call home.
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