A Warrior's Tradition Recognizes Native Americans

  • Published
  • By Lucinda Lazaro
  • 61st MSS
The month of November is American Indian Heritage Month. This year's theme for 2006 is entitled, "A Warrior's Tradition: Contributing to Our Nation's Freedom." I find it fitting to share this information with you.

21st Century Warriors: Native Americans Participating in the United States Military

American Indians have participated with distinction in the United States military for more than 200 years. Their courage, determination and fighting spirit were recognized by American military leaders as early as the 18th century.

I think they [Indians] can be made of excellent use, as scouts and light troops.--Gen. George Washington, 1778.

Many tribes were involved in the War of 1812, and Indians fought for both sides as auxiliary troops in the Civil War. Scouting the enemy was recognized as a particular skill of the American Indian soldier. In 1866, the U.S. Army established its Indian Scouts to exploit this aptitude. The Scouts were active in the American West in the late 1800s and early 1900s, accompanying Gen. John Pershing's expedition to Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa in 1916. They were deactivated in 1947 when their last member retired from the Army in ceremonies at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. American Indians from Indian Territory were also recruited by Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders and saw action in Cuba in the Spanish American War in 1898. As the military entered the 20th century, American Indians had already made a substantial contribution through military service and were on the brink of playing an even larger role.

As we embark on the 21st century, there are about 190,000 American Indian military veterans. It is well recognized that, historically, American Indians have the highest record of service per capita when compared to other ethnic groups. The reasons behind this disproportionate contribution are complex and deeply rooted in traditional American Indian culture. In many respects, we, as American Indians, are no different from others who volunteer for military service. We do, however, have distinctive cultural values which drive us to serve our country. One such value is our proud warrior tradition.

We, as American Indians, are honored - honored by our family and our tribe. Before going into service and upon our return, we are recognized by family and community. Recognition for us takes place through private gatherings, or through such public ceremonies as tribal dances or intertribal ceremonies.

The Warrior Tradition Carries On

The requirements for a successful military service - strength, bravery, pride and wisdom - match those of the American Indian warrior. Military service affords an outlet for combat that fulfill a culturally determined role for the warrior. Therefore, the military is an opportunity for cultural self-fulfillment. By sending our young tribal members off to be warriors, they return with experiences that make them members of their society. Finally, the military provides educational opportunities, which allow us, as veterans, to return to our community with productive job skills to improve our quality of life.

And now that we've hit the 21st century, the United States military can be expected to provide continuing opportunities for both men and women as American Indians. For our part, American Indians can be expected to carry on our centuries-old warrior tradition serving with pride, courage and distinction.

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