Flags posted for Memorial Day at Bradley Indian Cementery, Bradley, Michigan
Today is Memorial Day. Tribal offices are closed throughout Indian Country. Today has a greater meaning than a mere day off work. It is more than the “unofficial first day of summer.” Memorial Day is a day to remember those who died in the US military defending American soil and liberty.
Though we are from many tribal nations in Indian Country, American Indians have always been warriors—having served and died in every war since the Revolutionary War. According to the Oxford Companion to American Military History, American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest record of military service per capita compared to any other racial/ethnic group in the United States.
For those who find this confusing, Native peoples have always sought to defend the land. Though, now shared, America soil has always been Indian Country and Native warriors have fought when needed.
History has not always highlighted American Indian involvement in the US military. The contributions of code talkers from several tribal nations should never be ignored. The work of the Native code talkers helped to win World War II for the United States.
At powwows across Indian Country, veterans serve as honor guards to carry and post the flags representing tribal nations and the American flag. There is one more flag that usually is posted last: The POW-MIA flag to remember prisoners of war and those missing in action.
Not to be forgotten are eagle staffs that are also posted at powwows. While beautiful and powerful in their own right, each feather contained on an eagle staff may have a significant meaning.
I remember 20 years ago when one eagle staff carrier explained one feather on his staff carried great significance to him. It represented his father-in-law – a man he never met – who went missing in action during World War II. Today, the veteran still carries that same feather on his eagle staff. Today we remember his father-in-law whose last days we will never fully know while serving our country so that we can enjoy liberty.
Today, there are close to 24,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives who serve in various branches of the US military. It is estimated there are 383,000 American Indians and Alaska Native men and women who have served the United States.
Today, we remember those who served and died while defending American soil and liberty.