In today’s military, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians serve at one of the highest rates per capita of all population groups. Few outside the military and Native nations know that Native people have served in the U.S. Armed Forces since the American Revolution and continue to do so.

Today’s military successes depend heavily on Native Americans:

active duty, reserve, and national guard servicemen and women are American Indian and Alaska Native, currently serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world.*
veterans identify as American Indian or Alaska Native. 11.7 percent of these veterans are female, as compared to 8.4 percent of all other ethnicities.**

These veterans are Purple Heart recipients, Bronze Star honorees, and a few have been recognized with the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military award of the United States.

* Statistics sourced from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs 2012 report.
** Statistics sourced from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs 2017 report.


The Vietnam experience was an important part of my life. It led to twenty years of service in the army and countless leadership opportunities.

Jefferson Keel (Chickasaw)
Lieutenant Governor of the Chickasaw Nation
Co-Chair of the National Native American Veterans Memorial Advisory Committee

Keel is one of 42,000 Native Americans who served in the Vietnam War. He earned a Bronze Star with valor, two Purple Hearts, and numerous other awards for his heroism.

Ely S. Parker, 1860–65. At the surrender at Appomattox in 1865, Ely S. Parker (Seneca, 1828–1895) was the highest ranking American Indian in the Union Army, a lieutenant colonel. As General Ulysses S. Grant’s secretary, he drafted the terms of surrender. General Lee, noticing that Parker was an American Indian, remarked, “I am glad to see one real American here.” Parker later recalled, “I shook his hand and said, ‘We are all Americans.’” Photo by Mathew Brady. National Archives and Records Administration 529376

Spreading the Word Across America

The effort to honor Native Americans’ past and present service to our country will extend far beyond the physical National Native American Veterans Memorial. The museum also will share stories of Native American servicemen and women through aligned projects:

Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces

This poignant banner exhibition tells personal stories of Native American veterans and outlines plans for the memorial. This exhibition is being shown at venues across the country and can also be viewed online.

Why We Serve

The upcoming commemorative publication to the memorial’s dedication, Why We Serve details the history of more than 250 years of Native American participation in the military, from colonial times to the present day. Expected publication in Fall 2020.

A Vital Oral History Project

The museum is collaborating with the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress to collect, preserve, and make accessible the oral histories of Native American veterans. The oral history project records veterans’ stories in their own voices so that family and community members, researchers, the broader public, universities, museums, and others can learn from them for generations to come.

American Indian and Alaska Native Veteran Interviews
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Veteran Interviews