WASHINGTON – Throughout November, a display at the Pentagon titled, “Why We Serve” highlights how Native Americans have served in all the nation’s wars since the Revolutionary War.
The Defense Department and the nation celebrate National American Indian and Alaska Heritage Month every November.
“[Native American Heritage Month] is an opportunity to recognize the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, stories and important contributions of Native American and Alaskan Native people,” said Edward Blauvelt, Society of American Indian Government Employees, or SAIGE, warrior society director.
Throughout America’s history, 22 Native American servicemembers earned the Medal of Honor, 29 were U.S. Soldiers.
About 190,000 American Indians are military veterans. The U.S. is about 1.4% Native.
“Our Army is made up of Soldiers, their family members and civilians who come from all of the cultures in our American society,” said Brig. Gen. Joe Hilbert, director, Army force development. “In essence, we are America. Recognizing and celebrating our Native American cultures and those within our ranks who are serving or who have served and have come from those cultures, it is a way to celebrate us. It’s an opportunity to recognize the great contributions Native Americans have provided us and what they as a people have contributed to our great nation and our Army.”
Blauvelt said many of the warfare and battle tactics the service branches use today originated from the Native Americans.
“The American Indian, Alaskan Native style of warfare is so ingrained into America that it is now America’s version of warfare, and along with excellent training and equipment, it makes the U.S. military superior on the battlefield,” said Blauvelt.
These tactics include their perseverance, skulking (now known as guerrilla warfare), blitz attacks such as shock and awe and using stealth technology.
Native Americans would skulk game when hunting. They used this for enemy attacks as well.
When the Mohawks skulked, they hid the terrain to surprise attack the enemy, along with diversions and ambushes. Skulking was an essential mode of warfare for the forest Indians in the northeastern U.S. It enraged the European officers who viewed it as being against the “rules of war,” though they had skulked in wars in Ireland, Scotland, France and other European countries.
Crazy Horse of the Oglala Lakota tribe performed quick attacks and divided the enemy. The Apache leader Geronimo and the Seminole people used resistance fighting with hit-and-run tactics. Muscogee warriors used night attacks. The overall battle strategy of these Native American leaders focused on preserving the lives of the individual warrior, he said.
This warfighting blueprint evolved into the current multi-domain battle-tactic concept aimed to overcome local threats with small units instead of exposing major assets decentralized command structures. Those stealth structures include aircraft, drones, ships, tanks and missiles; camouflage to hide assets; and decoys such as drones and missiles.
Stealth methods include swarming to engage an adversary from all directions simultaneously, nighttime special operations teams and using tactics for surprise and mobility.
The U.S. military evolved using Native American guerilla tactics in Vietnam, Afghanistan and other modern conflicts.
Native American leader Crazy Horse and the plains tribes misled Gen. George Crook and his troops to rest in the bottom of a valley. They hid their numbers by walking and attacking in a single file. They waited until they were upon the enemy before they broke formation and surprised them with their numbers with devastating results against Crook’s command.
They also sowed the battlefield with confusion. A similar tactic in today’s battlefield was used during the U.S. “shock and awe” campaign, part of the 2003 Iraq invasion.
During the Revolutionary War, Native American warriors saw the war as an internal battle and didn’t want to get involved. Still, tribal members fed troops at Valley Forge, served as minutemen or fought with colonists if their tribes were directly attacked.
After the Revolutionary War, many tribes fought against the U.S. as the nation expanded westward. Still many Native Americans fought with the Army right up to the American Civil War.
Standouts who fought during the Civil War were Cherokee Gen. Stand Watie and Seneca Gen. Ely Parker, also known as Donehogawa.
Between 1872 and 1890, 16 native scouts were awarded the Medal of Honor. During the Indian Wars, 5,817 American Indians served as scouts during the 81 years.
The War Department authorized Native Americans to be enlisted in the Army and serve in Indian companies. Each existing regiment of cavalry would contain one Indian regiment. A maximum of 55 Indians were authorized for each company or troop.
Some Native Americans supported the programs while others fought against it. American Indians served in the Spanish-American War and earned Theodore Roosevelt’s highest regards, Blauvelt said.
Blauvelt said that even though they couldn’t vote and their numbers were thin, the American Indians were registering for the draft or volunteering for World War I.
“Americans were praising them for their virtues, courage, energy and daring,” he said. “Tribes with elite warrior societies sent their sons willingly.”
American Indians were some of the first to land in France during the last week of June 1918. Their service was recognized when seven Indians from seven tribes accompanied General Pershing in the French parade to honor Americans.
American Indians fought in every major engagement of World War I. Pvt. Joseph Oklahombi, Choctaw, Company D, 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th Division, earned the French Croix de Guerre, a French military medal, for sprinting across the battlefield and capturing 171 prisoners.
The most famous Native American servicemembers from World War I and II were the code talkers from the Choctaw, Cheyenne, Cherokee, Comanche, Ho-Chunk, Osage and Yankton Sioux tribes.
These Native American servicemembers used their traditional tribal languages to send Allied messages in code during World War I and II. They were present in battles such as D-Day and Iwo Jima. They kept their work secret, and their codes were never deciphered by Japan or Germany. In 2001, they received Congressional Gold Medals for their work.
During World War II, 44,000 Native American from 50 tribes of an estimated population of under 400,000 served on active duty, including nearly 800 women. About 150,000 served or supported the war effort. The Army used about 534 code talkers from the Comanche, Meskwaki, Chippewa, Oneida, Hopi and Dine nations during World War II.
More than 6,300 Alaska Natives from 107 communities volunteered to serve in the Alaska Territorial Guard during World War II.
Native Americans continued to serve through today.
“American Indians and Alaskan Natives have made major military contributions to this nation that helped America win battles and wars at crucial moments in history,” Blauvelt said.
To learn more about Native American Heritage Month, visit www.saige.org.