Native Americans and Why They Served

For some, the Aboriginal commitment to the US military makes no sense.

Why would Indians serve a country that invaded their homeland, suppressed their cultures and confined them to reservations?

According to the National Museum of the American Indian: Why we serveNatives served for the same reasons as anyone else, not to mention, at historic rates.

From va.gov and the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, 2010, veteran data:

  • Alaska Native American Veterans: 154,305
  • all other races: 21,620,880

Their purpose to serve: to show patriotism or to pursue a job, an education or an adventure. Yet tribal warrior traditions and treaty commitments with the United States give Native people the responsibility to defend Native lands.

This inspired the legacy of Aboriginal military service.

Valerie Adams, Oglala Lakota and co-founder of the Alabama Indigenous Coalition, says her grandfather, Jasper Milk, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946, who in 1943 was Seaman 1st Class, and Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, had joined the military based on the self-preservation that was necessary to survive the economic instability of life on the reservation.

“My grandfather, Jasper Milk, served in the United States Navy from 1943 to 1946 as a Seaman 1st Class. He was stationed on the USS Biloxi (CL-80). He was only 22 years old and recently married my grandmother Bernice Fire I’ve had enough) when he enlisted My grandfather was Oglala Lakota and POW Camp 334 Pine Ridge Indian Reservation I think that it made it easier for him to leave each time.

When we were young, we heard about his time on the ship and his shipmates. I’ve always been struck that my grandfather doesn’t know strangers. He looks like his highest commander took him because he too had native blood from somewhere. He was always proud to have served and continued to be involved with the American Legion well into his 80s.

I am proud that he and many others were warriors for his family and his people. I think for many, his age, joining the military is self-preservation and necessary to survive the economic instability of reserve life. I think being a warrior was in their blood and the armed forces couldn’t teach them that.”

For Native Americans who have never endured life on the reservation, their chances of making a stand for their community and country are just as likely when serving in the United States Armed Forces.

PFC. Sydney Short of the United Houma Nation and Army National Guard told KATC:

“As Native Americans, we were born to be fighters even though they put some of us on reservations and took our land; we still tend to serve because we are fighting for our people and also for our land; we make our names known. Being a Native American in the United States military, they respect our religion.”

She says she also serves because of the opportunities to travel, meet new people, overcome obstacles, and continue to honor the sovereignty that entails her indigeneity.

“I’m honored to be able to represent my family name, meet people from different parts of the world, go to new places and do things I never thought I could do. As a Native American, we were born to be fighters for our people and our land.”

In honor of veterans, past and present, here is a memorial song and veteran song by United Houma Nation Senior Chief August ‘Cocoa’ Creppel:

To learn more about the United Houma Nation, click here.

To learn more about the Alabama Native Coalition, click here.

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Nohemi M. Moore