Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
July 1, 2000 - Issue 13

The Warrior Tradition
by Vicki Lockard

"When I went to Germany, I never thought about war honors, or the four "coups" which an old-time Crow warrior had to earn in battle ... But, afterwards, when I came back and went through this telling of the deeds ceremony ... lo and behold I had completed the four requirements to become a chief."
Joseph Medicine Crow - Crow, World War II Veteran
, only living Crow War Chief

Joe Medicine Crow

For over 200 years, American Indians have served in the United States military. Their courage, determination, and fighting spirit have been recognized by military leaders since the 18th century.

Now, at the end of the 20th century, almost 190,000 Native Americans are recognized military veterans. Compared to other ethnic groups, inside the US borders, Natives have the highest record of service per capita. The reasons are deeply rooted in traditional Indian cultures and values. One value is the proud warrior tradition.

The warrior tradition means a willingness to engage an enemy in battle, continually proven by the courage of Native Americans during combat. But it means more than that; it means strength, honor, pride, devotion, and wisdom, qualities belonging to almost all Native American warrior societies.

Native Warriors need physical, spiritual, and mental strength. They must always be ready to overpower an enemy and meet death head-on. Warriors are devoted to the survival of their peoples and homelands, and are willing to sacrifice their lives defending them. It is understood that the warrior spirit lives on eternally.

True warriors seek wisdom. In a military sense, "wisdom" means combining formal learning and worldly experience. In wartime, many Native soldiers survived extreme conditions using skills learned from cultural experiences. During World War 1, a lot of Native soldiers fighting abroad were away from home for the first
time. They gained wisdom through being exposed to other peoples and cultures. Soldiers carried this wisdom home, which worried some elders who feared this new knowledge might threaten Native traditions. Over time, however, these new wisdoms have been accepted and welcomed.

To Native Americans, military service is a duty. It also provides an opportunity for travel, meeting people from other cultures,and more recently, a chance to gain educational and job skills useful in the civilian world.

Finally, and perhaps most important, military service has encouraged intertribal relationships, sometimes with tribal members from traditional enemy Nations. Many times, these inter cultural and intertribal contacts broke through stereotypes and resulted in lifelong friendships...friendships which may have otherwise never happened.

"There was a camaraderie that transcends ethnicity when you serve your country overseas in wartime."
Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Cheyenne Korean veteran

Veterans Leading Grand Entry
"My people honored me as a warrior. We had a feast and my parents and grandparents thanked everyone who prayed for my safe return. We had a "special" (dance] and I remembered as we circled the drum, I got a feeling of pride. I felt good inside because that's the way the Kiowa people tell you that you've done well."
Kiowa Vietnam Veteran

Warriors are honored by their families and honored by their tribe. Each is recognized by family and community before the warrior enters the armed services, and again when returning home. Recognition takes place through private family gatherings or through public ceremonies such as tribal dances or intertribal ceremonies.

In the traditional American Indian society, being recognized as a warrior fills one with a sense of pride and accomplishment at age when self-esteem is just developing. Becoming a warrior brings status to young men and women in their culture. Ceremonies honoring the warrior create a special place in the tribe's spiritual world.

The US military service stresses strength, bravery, pride, and wisdom, as do Indian warriors. The United States Military Service provides Natives a way to fulfill a cultural purpose rooted in tradition -- fighting and defending their homeland. Tribal youth are usually too young to assume leadership positions in their traditional culture. The expectation to be a warrior provides a purpose in life and is an important step in gaining status in Native America culture.

The warrior's spiritual strength is even more important. Many traditional cultures recognize that war disrupts life's natural order and causes spiritual disharmony. Surviving war helps one gain inner strength and a better understanding of life.

Native Americans value the inner spirituality within their character. Many Natives are raised in rural areas or remote reservations, environments that teach self-reliance, introspection, and a meditative way of thinking. These traits are helpful when living alone in military life, during peace and war.

With the 21st century almost here, the United States military will continue providing opportunities for Native American men and women to fulfill their centuries-old warrior tradition--serving with pride, courage, and distinction.



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