Memorial Day & Military Service: A Native Tradition

As I reflect on Memorial Day, I consider the sacrifices made by so many citizens of the United States to serve in times of need. And I consider the contribution made by my own people, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, and the thousands of other tribal members that have fought alongside the United States over the decades in the many world wars and armed conflicts around the world.

Here are a few of the ways Native Americans have served the United States military:

  • 90% of the 45,000 Native Americans volunteered to serve in Vietnam
  • Native Americans have the highest rate of military service per capita of any ethnic group
  • More than 10,000 Native Americans volunteered for WWI service, even though most were not recognized as U.S. citizens at the time
  • Native Americans during WWII invested more than $50 million in war bonds and also contributed generously to the American Red Cross and other relief agencies

But, I think, at least for me, the meaning goes much deeper than this.  It reflects a culture of warriors who have it within themselves to serve with honor… to fight when a fight needs to be made… and to honor their lives and life in general by doing what is right, by defending purpose and integrity. As such, these quotes really stick with me:

We honor our veterans for their bravery and because by seeing death on the battlefield, they truly know the greatness of life. –Winnebago Elder

When I went to Germany, I never thought about war honors, or the four “coups” that an old-time Crow warrior had to earn in battle….But afterwards, when I came back and went through this telling of war deeds ceremony… lo and behold I [had] completed the four requirements to become a chief. –Crow World War II Veteran

The quotes speak to connecting with the deeper meaning of the warrior way, to our past as warriors… not blood lust in love with the fight, but rather the honorable reasons of why a warrior should fight and to do what is right for his people and for himself. My grandfathers fought to keep the culture and the values connected to that culture alive. You value this life that we are all given and you serve to protect that life and the people in it. You fight to honor yourself and to never give up until you have done what needs to be done for the good of those around you. A fellow Sisseton Wahpeton is a good example of this. Master Sergeant Woodrow Wilson Keeble personifies the Native American warrior spirit: honorable, selfless, and with a quiet humble strength.

So, I hope you enjoyed the video and the thoughts it raised for me, and I want to thank all those who have served or are serving in the United States military. Thank you, truly.

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  1. Posted April 26, 2015 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

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  2. Posted May 12, 2015 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    My grandfathers fought to keep the culture and the values connected to that culture alive. – See more at:

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