Native Americans have served in our nation’s military since colonial times. In recent decades, they have served at a higher rate in proportion to their population than any other ethnic group. Why? For many military service is an extension of their warrior traditions. Others serve to reaffirm treaty alliances with the United States. Still others serve for sheer love of home and country.
Throughout Native America, servicemen and women are some of the most honored members of their communities. Yet they remain unrecognized by any landmark in our nation’s capital. That will soon change.
National Museum of the American Indian
George Washington peace medal, 1792
Made by Joseph Richardson Jr. (1752–1831). Silver; 14.8 x 9.9 cm. National Museum of the American Indian 22/8915
The United States Congress has charged the National Museum of the American Indian with creating a memorial on its grounds to give all Americans the opportunity “to learn of the proud and courageous tradition of service of Native Americans.” Their legacy deserves our recognition.
Why Do Native Americans Serve?
It doesn’t seem to make sense: why would American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians serve a government that overran their homelands, suppressed their cultures, and confined many of them to reservations? The reasons are complex.
Photo by Nicole Tung
For thousands of years, Native Americans have protected their communities and lands. A warrior’s traditional role, however, involved more than fighting enemies. Warriors cared for people and helped in any time of difficulty. They would do anything to ensure their people’s survival, including laying down their lives. Many Native Americans view service in the U.S. armed forces as a continuation of the warrior’s role in Native cultures.