As National Native American Heritage Month is coming to a close, I’m pleased to share this. This post is something of a departure from typical posts from the Veterans Legacy Program (VLP), in two ways. First, it comes from a conversation with two Veterans. Typically, VLP celebrates the legacy of Veterans who have passed and are interred in national cemeteries managed by VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA). But after I had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Mullen and Ms. McEwing, I felt that their message and example were well worth sharing.
The other way in which this post is a departure is in style. It is written like a newspaper article, because NCA’s Shawn Graham, a Navy Veteran and public affairs specialist, wrote this. So it reads quite differently than other VLP posts to date. But, it should. It shows another example of the professional diversity at NCA who contribute to sharing the legacy of Veterans. We all tell these stories of Legacy in different ways.
Please enjoy Shawn’s piece and what Ms. Mullen and Ms. McEwing had to share.
[Shawn’s words follow.]
Honoring the Legacy of American Indian Veterans
WASHINGTON — This month, National Cemetery Administration (NCA) celebrates Native American cultures, histories and traditions, and at VA we celebrate the Native contributions in uniform. Native servicemembers have served in every conflict in the history of this republic with valor, honor and distinction. Dr. Bryce Carpenter, Educational Outreach Programs Officer, said NCA is working to share the stories of Veterans through the Veterans Legacy Program (VLP). VLP is actively reaching out to the diverse Veteran population to enhance memorialization and increase awareness of the service and sacrifice of all our nation’s Veterans.
As part of this effort, Dr. Carpenter spoke with two Native Veterans who shared their thoughts on their Veteran experience. “When people think of military heroes, American Indians and Alaska Natives may not come to mind,” said Juanita Mullen, American Indian & Alaska Native Veterans Liaison from the Office of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. “Women are especially overlooked. Many people, from many different cultures have served this country and they all have a unique story.”
Ms. Mullen, an Air Force Veteran, said it was important to educate people about American Indian Veterans’ impact on the country’s history; past and present. She also said it was important to tap into the commonalities of military service.
“I’m proud to talk to people on the uniqueness of the different tribes and especially to the various federal agencies about the Veteran experience,” she said. “All Veterans have a unique bond and can immediately relate because of shared experiences. Those experiences make every Veteran a valuable asset in federal agencies and the private sector.”
According to the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are 567 federally recognized nations of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States, composed of nearly 4.5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, or 1.5 percent of the nation’s population.Brenda McEwing, CEO of First Nations Women Warriors and an Army Veteran, said her military service helped her embrace other cultures while not forgetting her own.
“The first thing the military taught me was teamwork,” Ms. McEwing stated. “The military taught me how important it was to understand different cultures and to respect your teammate’s unique experiences.”
“Everyone should take that first step in acknowledging that every Veteran contributes something,” Ms. McEwing said. “It’s important to understand history in order to appreciate it. My father, a World War II prisoner of war, taught me that many military qualities were transferrable, like character and honor.”
As of 2015, 16,910 American Indians or Alaska Natives serve in the armed forces, making up 1.3 percent of the military population.
In some of America’s most important, the volunteerism among Native Americans continues to impress and inspire. Dr. Herman Viola of the National Museum of the American Indian often shares that if all groups in America volunteered to serve in World War II at the same rate as Native volunteers, a draft would have been unnecessary.
“We must raise awareness and show the people who have worn the uniform and served the country. We must bring their stories to the rest of the country and highlight our strength,” said McEwing.
First Nations Women Warriors is a non-profit organization that was created in 2013 to raise awareness of women Veterans. Since its creation, the group has made special appearances as motivational, guest and keynote speakers at various events.