Native Military Resources and Information
Native Americans currently enlist in the military at a higher rate per capita than any other demographic group, and have been engaged in American wars since the Revolution. 31,000 Native American troops are serving active duty today. See below for links to further information and resources for the Native military community.
What does it mean to fight for your country?
A Brief Timeline of Native Involvement in US Military:
American Revolution (1775-1783)
The Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy could not agree on which side to fight during the Revolutionary War and tried to remain neutral. While the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga and Cayuga sided with the British, the Oneida and Tuscarora fought with the Americans.
“The Indian Wars” (1775-1890)
The Indian Wars describe the countless conflicts between American Settlers and the Government who were seeking further settlements and westward expansion. According to the U.S. Census Bureau of 1894, there were more than 40 Indian wars in which over 30,000 Natives were killed.
United States Civil War (1861-1865)
In 1862 Home guard Regiments were organized and were expedited to Indian Territories. Approximately 20,000 Native Americans served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War, hoping that war service would end discrimination and relocation from ancestral lands to western territories. The Civil War proved to be the Native American's last effort to stop the tidal wave of American expansion—while African chattel slavery officially ended with the fall of the Confederacy, the U.S. government continued its policies of pacification and removal of Native Americans.
World War I (1917-1918 – American involvement)
When the first World War began, Native Americans weren’t considered citizens of the U.S. Despite this, more than 12,000 Natives volunteered to serve the war efforts. During World War I and World War II, a variety of American Indian languages were used to send secret military messages – codes that enemies were never able to break.
World War II (1941-1945 – American involvement)
War Department officials have stated that during WWII, if the entire population had enlisted at the same rate American Indians did, Selective Service (the Draft) would have been unnecessary. Throughout WWII, nearly 800 American Indian women served in the U.S. military.
The Korean War (1950-1953)
While the United States military was racially segregated during World War II and American Indians were often classified as “colored,” racial segregation had ended by the Korean War. However, the military did not keep records showing the number of American Indians who served in the war. It is generally estimated that about 10,000 Indians served in the war. Anti-Indian racism continued in spite of the contributions made by American Indians in the Korean War. In 1951, the managers of a Sioux City, Iowa cemetery refused to bury the body—during the service—of Sergeant John Raymond Rice, a Winnebago who had been killed in action in Korea. He became the first Native American buried at Arlington National Cemetery after the episode received national attention.
The Vietnam War (1956-1975)
More than 42,000 Native Americans served during the Vietnam War. Ninety percent of them were volunteers (compared to 75% in the overall population). A 1997 landmark study of American Indian veterans of the Vietnam War found that one-third lived with some form of PTSD a quarter-century after the war ended. That was twice the rate of white Vietnam veterans.
Gulf War (1990-1991) & Iraq Wars (2003-2011; 2014-present)
American Indian men and women continue to serve in high numbers at home and abroad. According to the Department of Defense, more than 24,000 of the 1.2-million current active-duty servicemen and women are American Indians.
Lori Ann Piestewa (Hopi) was the first woman to die on the front lines in Iraq and the first American Indian woman to die serving the U.S. Armed Forces.
Afghanistan Wars (2001-present)
It is estimated that between 11 and 20 percent of veterans from the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, with Natives still presenting at a much higher rate than non-Native vets. In an effort to offer PTSD patients alternatives to medication, a handful of VA hospitals across the West are supporting sweat lodge ceremonies. The documentary Healing the Warrior’s Heart shows the Salt Lake City facility, where an intergenerational group of veterans work together, building a sweat lodge on the property.
Native American Service Today
The US currently has over 1,359,685 servicemembers, with an additional 799,845 people in the seven reserve components.165,000 active-duty personnel serve outside the United States, in over 150 countries.
Native Americans have participated in every major U.S. military encounter from the Revolutionary War to today’s conflicts in the Middle East, yet no landmark in our nation’s capital recognizes this contribution.
Next year, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian will create that landmark: The National Native American Veterans Memorial. The anticipated dedication of this tribute to Native heroes will be on Veterans Day 2020.