Recognizing Indigenous Veterans on Memorial Day

Memorial Day 2021 is on May 31 and we pay homage to the veterans who have served our country. This year, we’re also celebrating the opening of the new National Native American Veterans Memorial at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day and was first celebrated in 1868 to observe and honor fallen soldiers of the Civil War – including more than 20,000 Native Americans who served. Memorial Day evolved in 1971 to recognize all soldiers, past or present, not just those who had fallen.

Historically, more Native Americans have served in the U.S. military than any minority group, and their most key supporters are their communities back home. However, many people are unaware of the exceptional contributions of American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native veterans over the past two centuries.

Some may ask, “Why serve a country that has slighted our people?” Many Native Americans will contend that the land is still ours and while we are fraught with many ongoing social complications, the need for defending our country, our land, and our peoples prevails. Nearly 19% of Native Americans have served in the armed forces since 9/11 alone.

Last November, NMAI opened the doors to its National Native American Veterans Memorial to commemorate the service and the sacrifice of Native veterans and their families. The memorial, located on the National Mall in D.C., features a stainless-steel circle balanced on a carved stone drum that incorporates water for sacred ceremonies, benches for gathering/reflection and lances where visitors can tie cloths for prayers and healing. NMAI also launched a virtual exhibition that you can access online.

Many of PWNA’s partners on Northern Plains and Southwest reservations are serving 15 or more veterans, along with other residents, through their senior centers, food banks, health centers and other Tribal programs. This assistance cares for all our brethren and honors the sacrifices of our veterans.

Today is an opportunity to pay tribute to those who have served or fallen to defend our freedom.

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