Why I Am Proud to Be a Native American in the U.S.

As we reflect on the recent July 4th holiday and all the celebrations that took place across the United States, I feel a sense of personal pride. This truly is a great country in which to live. But, more specifically, I feel proud to be a part of it and to be a Native American.

I am a Native man living in a country that has had its fair share of wars, disputes and worse with Native people since the recorded history of America and even before. Is it true there are many broken treaties and historical traumas horrific in scope? Yes. Is it also difficult to sift through all that has passed – to the extent history and lost history allow – and see where we as Americans and Native Americans are today? Absolutely. And are all of these issues incredibly complex and still at the heart of many contemporary conflicts and misunderstandings today? Without a doubt.

Murray Lee - sizedYet, what I am thinking about now as I put pen to paper is the idea that “who I am” and “who I exist as” are two things that necessarily exist as concurrent ideologies and lives. I am a Native American and a tribally enrolled member of a very specific tribe, and I am also a citizen of the United States – living out two very different meanings in a single lifetime.

I do not see this as a negative. Rather, it is borne of the idea that, despite all the historical challenges between my nation and the United States, I still find the commonalities of good in this country where I live. I realize the sacrifices my Grandfathers made as they stood against the United States, and also the sacrifices my tribe and many other tribes made as they helped defend this country through many wars.

While the U.S. population was nearly 1.4 percent American Indian, the Native veteran population was 1.7 percent, “making it the highest per-capita commitment of any ethnic population to defend the United States.” So, the idea that the United States is worth fighting for, while at the same time revering the Native warrior tradition, is an idea not at all lost on the tens of thousands of Native Americans who served in this country’s wars.

So, to come back to my point…  I am proud to be a Native American in the United States because as both, I find an identity worth being proud of and exemplary traits within each culture. I am proud of the brave warriors, both military and political, in both cultures who fought for what was right throughout very distinct histories, for that inherent sense of right and helping when help is needed, without any thought of being paid back.

Beyond this, I find the progress we have made together encouraging, although frustrating and slow at times. Is there much more for both Native Americans and the United States to do to reach full harmony and assuage treaty obligations and socio-economic conditions? Of course. But, that does not, and it cannot, diminish the sense of pride and accomplishment we have achieved by being both Native Americans and American citizens.

So, in closing, I am very proud that both my Native American Grandfathers and Grandmothers, as well as my contemporary U.S. culture, have fought so hard and done what was necessary so that I could exist today – even as we continue to learn and progress toward what is right and fair. This duality is at the very heart of who I am, a very complex yet singular human being from two very distinct cultures.

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One Comment

  1. Posted July 9, 2015 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    I have always been proud of my family's Native American heritage, but I am not proud of the tribal leaders who disenroll their own people.

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