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Native Americans and why they serve

in Honor of Veterans Day
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Posted at 10:03 PM, Nov 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-11 23:28:26-05

For some, the Indigenous commitment to the U.S. military doesn’t make sense.

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

According to the National Museum of the American Indian: Why We Serve, Native people have served for the same reasons as anyone else, not forgetting to mention, at historic rates.

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

  • American Indian Alaskan Native veterans: 154,305
  • all other races: 21,620,880

Their purpose of serving: to demonstrate patriotism or pursue employment, education, or adventure. Yet tribal warrior traditions and treaty commitments with the United States give Natives that responsibility for defending Native homelands.

This has inspired the legacy of Indigenous 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 was 1943 1st Class Seaman and Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, had joined the military on the basis of self preservation that was necessary for survival from the economic instability of living on the reservation.

"My grandfather, Jasper Milk, served in the US Navy from 1943 to 1946 as a 1st Class Seaman. He was stationed on the USS Biloxi (CL-80). He was just 22 and recently married to my grandmother Bernice Fire (Lets Them Have Enough) when he enlisted. My grandfather was Oglala Lakota and from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation POW Camp 334. His parents familiarized he and his sister, early, on traveling abroad and across the country where they learned the value of working hard and family. I think that made it easier for him to leave each time.

When we were young, we heard about his time on the ship and shipmates. I was always struck that my grandfather knew no strangers. He would say that his highest commanding officer took up for him because he too had some native blood from somewhere. He was always proud to have served and continued to be involved in the American Legion well into his 80's.

I am proud that he and many others were warriors for his family and people. I think that for many his age joining the military is self preservation and necessary for survival from the economic instability of living on the reservation. I think that being a warrior was in their blood and the armed forces couldn't teach them that."

For Native Americans who never endured life on the reservation, their chances to take a stand for their community and country is just as likely when serving in the U.S. Armed Services.

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

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

She says she also serves because of the opportunities of traveling, meeting new people, overcoming obstacles, and to continue to honor the sovereignty that involves her indigeneity.

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

In honor of veterans, past and present, here's a memorial song and a veterans song from Principle Chief of the United Houma Nation, August 'Cocoa' Creppel:

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

To learn more about The Alabama Indigenous Coalition, click here.

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