WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFLCMC) — In 2009, then-President Barack Obama signed the “Native American Heritage Day Resolution”, declaring the Friday after Thanksgiving a “Native American Heritage Day”. The resolution received unanimous support in the House of Representatives and the US Senate.
Upon signing HJ Res. 40, President Obama stated, “I call on every American to join me in celebrating Native American Heritage Day… It is also important for all of us to understand the rich culture, traditions, and history of Native Americans and their status today. and to appreciate the contributions that early Americans have made and will continue to make to our nation.”
President George W. Bush had previously signed a joint resolution in 1990 declaring November National Heritage Month of the American Indian. Since then, Presidents have issued annual proclamations celebrating the heritage and culture of Native Americans.
This year’s theme, Celebrating Respect, Culture and Education, is about celebrating respect for neighbor and nature, and embracing and learning about cultures other than our own.
Native Americans and Alaska Natives have a unique relationship with the federal government due to historical conflict and subsequent treaties. There are currently 574 federally recognized tribes and 324 Native American reservations in the United States.
Twenty-eight states and many cities, rivers, and lakes have names derived from Native American heritage. Native Americans and Alaska Natives are people who are descended from any of the indigenous peoples of North, South, and Central America and who retain an affiliation to a tribe or community. According to the US Census, there were 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the US in 2010; 7.1 million American Indians and Alaska Natives living in the US in 2020; and by July 2060, the United States is projected to have 10.1 million American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Historically, American Indians have the highest per capita military service rate of any other ethnic group. The reasons are deeply rooted in the traditional cultural values that motivate them to serve their country.
These include the traditions of the proud warrior, best exemplified by the following qualities, which are said to be shared by most, if not all, Indian societies: strength, honor, pride, devotion, and wisdom. These qualities are closely related to military traditions.
The warrior pictured in the attached picture is US Army Technician 5th Class Joseph Medicine Crow, the last Crow War Chief. Crowe earned the title of war chief while serving as a US Army scout with the 103rd Infantry Division during World War II.
Crow was born in 1913 on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. Raised by the elders in the warrior tradition of the tribe, he learned to master his fears, ride without a saddle, track game, and endure extreme cold. He also studied those who had previously distinguished themselves in combat. He became the first member of his tribe to earn a master’s degree and left his doctoral program to volunteer for World War II service.
During this conflict, he fulfilled all four basic requirements to become a warlord: make a coup (touch an enemy without killing him), take an enemy’s weapons, lead a successful war party, and steal an enemy’s horse.
The crow collided with a young German soldier during a combat operation, knocking him to the ground. The German soldier lost his weapon. Crowe lowered his own weapon and they began to fight hand to hand. When Crowe was strangling a German soldier, he heard the soldier calling for his mother. Crow released him and let him go. Later in the conflict, Crowe led a successful war party and stole 50 horses from a German Nazi SS camp. As he left, he sang a traditional Crow war song.
For his actions during World War II, Crowe received the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and numerous service awards and ribbons, including the Bronze Star medal, the French Legion of Honor, and the Presidential Medal of Liberty. In 2009, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor.
Some notable Native Americans:
Mary Peltola (rep – D)
A Yupik representative, Peltola was elected to the post in 2022, becoming the first Alaskan Native woman to serve in the US Congress.
Raised by a Nebraska father and a Yup’ik mother, Petola grew up on the Kustokwim River near Bethel. The Yupik people have fished in the area for centuries.
At the age of 6, she and her father began to fish for salmon for commercial purposes. When she was in her early 20s, after working for the Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife, she landed a job at the state house in Juneau.
During her 10 years at the state house, she focused on the Kuskokwim River region, helping to manage a nearby gold project and advocating for safe salmon fisheries, which are the region’s economic arteries. During her inaugural address, she said, “I am honored to represent Alaska, a place that my ancestors and elders have called home for thousands of years, where to this day many people in my community continue our hunting and fishing traditions.”
Carol Metcalfe-Gardip – geologist
Ms. Gardeep has served in many roles, including director of the American Indian Engineering Program (the first of its kind) and one of the seven founders of the American Indian Science and Technology Society (AISES). She is also a professor, administrator, and award-winning geologist who has held positions with the US Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Leela Downes – musician
The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter immigrated from Oaxaca, Mexico and has been singing since she was eight years old. While her Latin American style appeals to a global audience, her music also has a strong jazz influence.
Deb Haaland – Minister of the Interior
Secretary Deb Haaland made history when she became the first Native American to serve as Cabinet Secretary. Before joining President Biden’s cabinet, Haaland was a Congressional representative from New Mexico’s 1st district.
Emori Sekakvapteva – Anthropologist
Hopi linguist, anthropologist, scholar, educator, artist and appeals court judge Emory Sekakwapteva is best known for developing the first dictionary of the Hopi language.
Master Sgt. Woodrow W. Keeble – congressional Medal of Honor recipient
In 2008, Keeble became the first full-blooded Sioux Indian to receive the Medal of Honor. During the battle in the Korean War, his actions saved the lives of fellow soldiers. He was born in 1917 in Wobey, South Dakota, but spent most of his life near Wahpeton, North Dakota. As the war in Europe heated up, Keeble joined the North Dakota National Guard in 1942. His service included World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He received the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge in addition to the Medal of Honor.