The name, “Piestewa,” is well known in the State of Arizona. Piestewa Peak towers over the Valley of the Sun, Piestewa Freeway makes it quick to get from Downtown to North Phoenix, and thousands participate annually in the Piestewa National Native American Games. All of these honor Specialist Lori Piestewa, a member of the US Army’s 507th Maintenance Company and the first Native American woman in US history to be killed in combat. In March 2003, then PFC Piestewa, a proud member of the Hopi Tribe from Northeastern Arizona, was in a convoy traveling through Iraq when it was ambushed. She evaded enemy fire until her Humvee was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, however, her evasive efforts saved the lives of her fellow soldiers.
Despite the tragedy of her death, PFC Piestewa joins a long, proud history of Native Americans dedicating their lives and careers to the US Armed Forces. In fact, Tribes have the highest per-capita commitment of any ethnic population defending the United States. Today, Native American service in the Armed Forces often evokes memories of the Navajo Code Talkers and iconic soldiers such as Gila River Indian Community Member Ira Hayes, who raised the flag at Iwo Jima. What are often missed are the contributions Native American women have made to protect the freedoms that we enjoy.
These “Women Warriors” have fought for the rights of their people for centuries, often without glory or recognition. Today, over 18,000 Native American women serve in the various branches of the US Armed Forces, assuming many of the military tasks that have traditionally been reserved for men including commanding troops, operating military vehicles and aircraft, and engaging in combat. Their service speaks to a strong family and tribal military tradition that spans across the Vietnam War, World Wars I and II, and even as far back as the Civil War.
The contributions of Women Warriors are not limited to military involvement or combat, however. As Native American Studies Professor Patty Loew stated, “Today, if you define warrior the way I do, which is more broadly, protecting culture, language, traditions, it also is survival. It’s a cultural survival. And so the people that we define or describe as warriors are ensuring the survival of our communities.”
Warriors are honored by both families and Tribes in Native American traditions across the country. “The importance of Women Warriors is laced throughout Native culture, carefully woven into the past,” Professor Loew continued. “Today it remains a vital part of contemporary Native life and is likely to remain for generations to come.” Service to tribe and country is the essence of Women Warriors, bringing with it a sense of pride and accomplishment. They are respected and revered members of the community and are seen as heroes.
Many tribes, like the San Carlos Apache, recognize the service and contributions of Women Warriors to preserving the rights, freedoms, and culture of all Americans. Each year, the San Carlos Apache Tribe in Eastern Arizona hosts its Veteran’s Day Fair and Rodeo. This year’s event will take place November 8-11, 2015 with the theme, “Honoring all American Female Veterans.” The event will focus specifically on recognizing the enormous contributions of female veterans to their tribes and their country.
No matter your culture, background, or community, we can all agree that Veteran’s Day is a time to honor all of those who have fought for the rights and freedoms we hold dear. This year, let us remember the many contributions of the Women Warriors who protect not only our freedom, but culture, language, and traditions as well.