November, Veterans Day, and Native American Heritage Month
Native American Heritage Month includes numerous days meant to honor different aspects of Indigenous cultures, identities, histories, and experiences such as National Bison Day (November 4th), Rock your Mocs day (November 15th), Red Shawl day (November 19th), and Native Heritage day (November 24th). November also includes Veterans Day, although not created to directly recognize Indigenous veterans, it provides another opportunity to recognize the numerous contributions Native Americans continue to make to our history.
Veteran’s Day was originally created to recognize all former service members and marks the anniversary of the armistice agreement ending World War One. Throughout history and today many Native Americans and Indigenous peoples serve in every branch of the armed forces in the United States. Surprisingly, Native Americans serve in the armed forces at five times the rate of any other demographic, despite making up very little of the total US population. Native American women also serve at a higher proportion than any other demographic of female service members.
So why do so many Native Americans serve in the military?
The answer is complicated. There are numerous reasons: Tribal warrior tradition, protecting homelands, treaty agreements, access to education and employment, drafts, forced removal schools, patriotism, etc. Each of these reasons might change depending on the person, which tribe or tribes, what conflict and period they serve in, and so on. This article will be providing a general synopsis for why Native Americans have served in the armed forces over the span of around 300 years. For more nuanced information about particular conflicts, individuals, tribes, or branches of the military; please visit the cultural center or website of the tribes you are interested in.
Tribal warrior traditions and protecting of traditional homelands both go back much further than the history of the United States. In fact, both are older than the European colonization of the Americas. This tradition is not the warrior myth but an honorable cultural tradition specific to their particular nation. Some interpret it as the traditional role as a protector and provider, and some fulfill that cultural tradition through non-violent means such as activism and protecting vital resources.
Unfortunately, not all service was voluntary.
Some boarding schools forcibly removed Indigenous children and, for lack of a better phrase, conscripted them into militarized academies. These military focused boarding schools were the precursor to the often-common trope of modern-day military boarding schools. Some were drafted into service even before attaining citizenship.
But many Indigenous people chose service. Some to escape the poverty of forced reservations. Some to afford higher education. Some to ensure steady employment and benefits for themselves and their immediate family. Some because they believed in service as part of their culture. Some because they believed in defending the United States.
A passion to serve despite the circumstances
Over the course of the last 300 years, each individual who served did so under a variety of circumstances. Some served while they and their families were considered foreign nationals allied with the U.S. Others were considered second class citizens without the rights, liberties, and protections afforded to others who served alongside them. Many served without citizenship, especially during the First World War. Most served without equal rights, facing discriminatory treatment at home and often racist fetishized curiosity. Despite all these differing circumstances, they all fought for the United States putting their lives and personal well-being at risk. Many did so exceptionally, earning medals of honor, purple hearts, medals of freedom, and other national recognitions.
We at Conner Prairie would like to recognize all Indigenous veterans this November, those who have served and those currently serving. Those whose names were recorded and the many whose names have been lost over time. Without their service, the world would not be the same. The sacrifices made by these individuals and their families were made sometimes voluntarily and sometimes by force.
To See How Indigenous Communities Recognize Their Veterans:
Special Thanks to Burgundy Fletcher of the Peoria Tribe for the flyer image.
For Further Interest:
Journal Articles: (Behind JSTOR Paywall)
Barsh, Russel Lawrence. “American Indians in the Great War.” Ethnohistory 38, no. 3 (1991):
Franco, Jeré. “Empowering the World War II Native American Veteran: Postwar Civil Rights.”
Wicazo Sa Review 9, no. 1 (1993): 32–37. https://doi.org/10.2307/1409252.
Garner, James W. “Contributions, Requisitions, and Compulsory Service in Occupied Territory.”
The American Journal of International Law 11, no. 1 (1917): 74–112.
Jacobsen, Jacques Noel. “Indian Scouts of the U.S. Army.” Military Images 1, no. 5 (1980): 22–
Jenkins. Jennifer L., “FRAMING RACE IN THE ARIZONA BORDERLANDS: The Western
Ways Apache Scouts and Sells Indian Rodeo Films.” The Moving Image: The Journal of
the Association of Moving Image Archivists 14, no. 2 (2014): 68–95.
Lahti, Janne. “Colonized Labor: Apaches and Pawnees as Army Workers.” Western Historical
Quarterly 39, no. 3 (2008): 283–302. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25443731.
McGormick, David. “A NOVEL PROPOSITION: Indian Regulars in the U.S. Army in the
1890s.” Army History, no. 114 (2020): 6–17. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26863612.
Naumec, David J. “From Mashantucket to Appomattox: The Native American Veterans of
Connecticut’s Volunteer Regiments and the Union Navy.” The New England Quarterly
81, no. 4 (2008): 596–635. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20474681.
Shepherd, Jeffrey P. “At the Crossroads of Hualapai History, Memory, and American
Colonization: Contesting Space and Place.” American Indian Quarterly 32, no. 1 (2008):
Stenger, Dieter. “Guides to the West: Enlisted Native American United States Scouts.” Army
History, no. 114 (2020): 20–21. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26863614.
Steven Sabol. “Comparing American and Russian Internal Colonization: The ‘Touch of
Civilisation’ on the Sioux and Kazakhs.” Western Historical Quarterly 43, no. 1 (2012):
Tate, Michael L. “From Scout to Doughboy: The National Debate over Integrating American
Indians into the Military, 1891-1918.” The Western Historical Quarterly 17, no. 4 (1986):
Van de Logt, Mark, “‘Whoever Makes War upon the Rees Will Be Considered Making War
upon the “Great Father”’: Sahnish Military Service on the Northern Great Plains, 1865–
1881.” Wicazo Sa Review 32, no. 1 (2017): 9–28.
 “National Native American Heritage Month”, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, accessed October 26th, 2023, https://www.bia.gov/NNAHM ; Dates in paratheses are the dates for 2023, some change year to year.
 “Native American Affairs: Native Americans in the Military”, DOD Environmental, Safety & Occupational Health Network and Information Exchange (DENIX), accessed October 17th, 2023, https://www.denix.osd.mil/na/military/ ; “American Indian Veterans Have Highest Record of Military Service”, NICOA Blogs, National Indian Council on Aging, Inc., November 8th, 2019, https://www.nicoa.org/american-indian-veterans-have-highest-record-of-military-service/#:%7E:text=Close-,American%20Indian%20Veterans%20Have%20Highest%20Record%20of%20Military%20Service,conflict%20for%20over%20200%20years ; Vincent Schilling, “By the Numbers: A Look at Native Enlistment During the Major Wars”, ICT, published February 6th, 2014, updated September 13th, 2018, https://ictnews.org/archive/by-the-numbers-a-look-at-native-enlistment-during-the-major-wars?redir=1 ; Danielle DeSimone, “A History of Military Service: Native Americans in the U.S. Military Yesterday and Today”, USO, published in 2020, updated November 8th, 2021, https://www.uso.org/stories/2914-a-history-of-military-service-native-americans-in-the-u-s-military-yesterday-and-today ;
 Alicia Ault, “The Remarkable and Complex Legacy of Native American Military Service: Why do they serve? The answer is grounded in honor and love for their homeland”, Smithsonian Magazine, published November 11th, 2020, accessed October 17th, 2023, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/remarkable-and-complex-legacy-native-american-military-service-180976264/ ;
“Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces”, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian, copyright 2020, accessed October 13th, 2023, https://americanindian.si.edu/why-we-serve/
 Harvey Pratt (designer), Rebecca Trautman (curator), The Washington Foreign Press Center, “Understanding America: The Legacy of Native American Military Service”, U.S. Department of State (brief), November 8th, 2021 in Washington, D.C., https://www.state.gov/briefings-foreign-press-centers/understanding-america-the-legacy-of-native-american-military-service#:~:text=Native%20Americans%20have%20served%20in%20every%20major%20military%20conflict%20since,served%2C%20including%20nearly%20800%20women.
 “Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces – Cultures of War”, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian, copyright 2020, accessed October 18th, 2023, https://americanindian.si.edu/static/why-we-serve/topics/cultures-of-war/
 “The Warrior Tradition: What does it mean to be a Warrior?”, PBS, copyright 2019, accessed October 13th, 2023. https://www.pbs.org/wned/warrior-tradition/features/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-warrior/
 Brittany Hunt, “Sinister Schooling: Modern-Day Implications of Hampton Model Industrial Schools and American Indian Boarding Schools.” Zanj: The Journal of Critical Global South Studies 3, no. 1 (2019): 70–83. https://www.jstor.org/stable/48692634
 “History Resources: American Indian’s Service in World War I, 1920 – A spotlight on a primary source by John J. Pershing”, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, copyright 2023, accessed October 19th, 2023, https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-resources/spotlight-primary-source/american-indians-service-world-war-i-1920 ; NCC Staff, “On this day, all American Indians made United States Citizens”, Constitution Daily Blog, National Constitution Center, June 2nd, 2023, https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/on-this-day-in-1924-all-indians-made-united-states-citizens ; Citizenship to all Native Americans was officially granted by the Indian Citizenship Act on June 2nd, 1924. This did not equate to equal rights nor protections that citizenship would usually ensure, particularly regarding voting rights.
 “A Legacy of Service”, Oneida Indian Nation, copyright 2020, accessed October 18th, 2023, https://www.oneidaindiannation.com/a-legacy-of-service/ ; National Museum of the American Indian, “Why We Serve”.
 Dieter Stenger, “Guides to the West: Enlisted Native American United States Scouts.” Army History, no. 114 (2020): 20–21. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26863614; Jacques Noel Jacobsen, “Indian Scouts of the U.S. Army.” Military Images 1, no. 5 (1980): 22–24. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44031255 ; James P. Collins, “Native Americans in the Antebellum U.S. Military”, Prologue, Winter 2007, volume 39, no. 4, National Archives and Records Administration, last reviewed February 6th, 2023, https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2007/winter/indians-military.html
 Michael L. Tate “From Scout to Doughboy: The National Debate over Integrating American Indians into the Military, 1891-1918.” The Western Historical Quarterly 17, no. 4 (1986): 417–37. https://doi.org/10.2307/969017
 Donna Vojvodich, “The Long Blue Line : “Sooner Squadron” – First Native American Women to enlist in the Coast Guard”, United States Coast Guard, November 5th, 2021, https://www.mycg.uscg.mil/News/Article/2826944/the-long-blue-line-sooner-squadronfirst-native-american-women-to-enlist-in-the/ ; Denise Neil, “Native Americans in the 45th Infantry Division”, The National World War II Museum, November 27th, 2020, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/native-americans-45th-infantry-division
 Adam Jevec, “Semper Fidelis, Code Talkers”, Prologue Magazine, Winter 2001, volume 33, no. 4, National Archives and Records Administration, last reviewed on November 3rd, 2022, https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2001/winter/navajo-code-talkers.html#:~:text=The%20U.S.%20Marine%20Corps%2C%20in,and%20train%20Navajos%20as%20messengers. ; Dennis Zotigh, “Native Americans have Always Answered the Call to Serve: National VFW Day 2020”, Smithsonian Magazine, September 29th, 2020, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/blogs/national-museum-american-indian/2020/09/29/national-vfw-day/
 Harvey Pratt designer, “Warrior’s Circle of Honor”, “National Native American Veterans Memorial: Honoring the Military Service of Native Americans”, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian, copyright 2023, accessed October 25th, 2023; https://americanindian.si.edu/visit/washington/nnavm