Honoring the many Native Americans who served their country |Opinion
One of the great ironies of American history is that Native peoples have fought in every war the United States has engaged in, yet Native Americans were not granted citizenship until 1924, and their access The vote depended on each state (Utah was the last to grant the vote in 1962).
Despite this, their commitment to this country continues, with no other demographic serving in the armed forces at the same rate as Native Americans. Because November celebrates Native American Heritage Month and Veterans Day, we want to explore the “warrior spirit” that compels nearly 1 in 5 Native Americans to serve a country that hasn’t always served them.
Although there is no single definition of warrior spirit, most Native Americans cite a commitment to protecting their community coupled with a deep devotion to the land. Traditionally, this meant physically fighting for one’s native nation. Indigenous peoples fought on both sides of the Revolutionary War, and many attribute the American victory to the adoption of Indigenous military tactics. During the Civil War, the tribal nations again fought on both sides, aligning themselves in defense of their homelands. Both sides had native brigadier generals; a Cherokee for the Confederate side and a Seneca for the Union.
Due to the perceived bravery and high skill of Native American soldiers, beginning in World War I they were given dangerous missions more often and died at far higher rates than any other group. It was during this war that the military began to recognize the potential of using indigenous languages as codes. The Choctaws transmitted orders in their native language that the Germans could not decipher, paving the way for the Code Talkers during World War II.
But it is shortsighted to focus solely on the militaristic aspects of the warrior spirit. At the heart of a warrior are enduring Indigenous principles that transcend combat tactics. Jamescita Peshlakai, a Navajo Diné who served in the Gulf War, says that a warrior reflects the strength of his people: “We defend the family, we defend what we love, we are the keepers of knowledge and, in the end After all, we have a say in where our people go. Peshlakai has gone from strategizing on the battlefield to strategizing in the Arizona State Senate, where she represents the interests of her people.
The warrior spirit is deeply connected to the defense and preservation of sacred lands, such as the Northwestern band of the Shoshone Nation who redeem their ancestral lands to build an interpretive center at the site of the Bear River Massacre, or Native Americans of many tribes fighting for the environment against the Keystone Pipeline.
For indigenous peoples, land is not something to be conquered, owned or shared. There is a reciprocity between people and the earth: if we protect and support it, it will protect and support us.
As Laguna Pueblo poet Paula Gunn Allen wrote, “We are the land. To the best of my understanding, this is the fundamental idea that permeates American Indian life.
It seems fitting that Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold a Cabinet post, is Secretary of the Interior, whose responsibility is to maintain and protect federal lands and natural resources. While Haaland never served in the military, both of his parents did. Like them, she protects the country, in her case by being the steward of its lands.
As we celebrate the Indigenous peoples of America, let us honor those who have served or still serve our country, who feel called by the warrior spirit to protect lives and lands. As former Air Force Captain DJ Vanas wrote, “A warrior fights for something bigger than himself, leads by example, and focuses not on what he can get but on what what he can do for others. In an ever-changing world, the concept of the traditional warrior remains unchanged.
Remember, it’s not about battle, ego or glory; it’s about sacrifice, service, honor and making sure the earth will be there to support our children.
Brenda Beyal, a Navajo/Dine, leads the Native American Curriculum Initiative for BYU ARTS Partnership. In 2016, Beyal was honored by the Utah Education Network as America’s Graduate Champion. Heather Sundahl is a Native American Curriculum Writer and Freelance Writer for the BYU ARTS Partnership, Utah Women and Leadership Project, and The Exponent.