Native American veterans exhibit debuts Aug. 4

World War II Gen. Douglas MacArthur with Signal Corpsmen (Image from the National Native American Veterans Memorial)
The role of Native American Code Talkers during World War II is well-known but Native Veterans have served in every branch of the U.S. Military for over 200 years. It is fitting , then, that their history will be recognized: A Native American Veterans Exhibit will open in a special ceremony noon Saturday (Aug. 4) at the Amphitheater of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire.

New Mexico Department of Veterans Services (DVS) Secretary Jack Fox and Suzette Shije, Deputy Cabinet Secretary of Indian Affairs will be joined by Nancy De Santis (Co-Founder and Programs Director of Horses for Heroes, Cowboy Up) and Kelly Noble Zunie, representing “Military Families” who will be joining the Native American Veterans gathered to show their support, along with prominent Native American veterans and members of the veteran community to welcome the exhibit to the Memorial, which is managed by DVS.

Guest speakers include TyAnn Nakai, who served in both the Air Force and Marine Corps for a total of 13 years, Lt. Co.l (Ret) Chuck Howe (Mayor Pro-Tem of Angel Fire, President of the David Westphall Veterans Foundation, and President of the National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center), Ryan Begay (USAF Veteran, actor: “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”, “Breaking Bad”, Videographer/Photographer), Teddy Draper III (Marine Recon Veteran, artist and Certified Personal Trainer, who is also the son of the late Navajo Code talker Teddy Draper, Sr.), and Wes Studi (actor and Vietnam Veteran).

The exhibit honors Native American Veterans of all eras who have served the United States. The exhibit explores the untold stories of Native peoples’ contributions, as the highest percentage of any race of people – per capita – to serve in the U.S. military. The exhibit will include bios, personal effects, personal accounts and stories.

Ty Kakai (Facebook image)
TyAnn Nakai, a 13 year veteran of the US Marine Corps and US Air Force, will be overseeing the exhibit, which she sees as part of her healing vision to show love and gratitude for those Native American warriors and veterans often overlooked and forgotten. According to Ms. Nakai, the exhibit is her vision “to show love and gratitude for those Native American warriors and veterans often overlooked and forgotten.”

Music for the opening ceremony will include blessings and songs by NAC recording artist Eldridge Etsitty & Reanetta Etsitty to honor and soothe the souls of those warriors in attendance and those who never made it home.

A luncheon of Native Tacos (Fry Bread Tacos) will be served.

A history of service

According to the website Indian Country Today, “American Indians serve at a high rate and have a higher concentration of female service members. In addition to their active role in the Civil War, 12,000 volunteered during world War I, even though they were not considered U.S. citizens. During World War II, 14 American Indian women served in the Army Nurse Corps and nearly 800 women served in the U.S. military. Additionally, if the entire U.S. population had enlisted at the same rate during World War II as Native Americans had, Selective Service would have been unnecessary. By the end of the war, 24,521 reservation Indians and another 20,000 off-reservation Indians had served in the military effort – or 10 percent of the American Indian population.

The National Native American Veterans Memorial website states that, according to the Department of Defense:

  • 31,000 American Indian and Alaska Native men and women are on active duty today, serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world.
  • 140,000 living Native Americans are veterans and 11.5 percent of these veterans are female, as compared to 8 percent of all other ethnicities.
  • Native Americans served in the post-9/11 period in a higher percentage than veterans of other ethnicities, 18.6 percent versus 14 percent, respectively.
  • Native American veterans are Purple Heart recipients, Bronze Star medal honorees, and many have been recognized with the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military award of the United States.