As a Native American veteran, Akwesasne Mohawk, and a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, there is a special place in my heart for Memorial Day. It is a day for all veterans to reflect on fellow soldiers we spent time with during the service (there is not a much greater bond than the one with military buddies), and to reflect on all those who served, who are serving and, of course, though the day reminds of the service members, above all, Memorial Day is the day to honor all those special service members who never made it back home.
Memorial Day is a special day for military service men and women, and we appreciate the gestures of thanks from our fellow Americans and feel honored for having served our country.
But sometimes I wish the contributions of our Native American servicemen and women received a little bit more emphasis.
I realize that our president has changed, and as a former Army lieutenant I will always be respectful to the office of the president, but I am leaving the article intact and in its original form as it was written in 2016.
That said: Here is my version of a perfect Native American Memorial Day.
As I wake up in the morning, my small clock radio alarm goes off, playing the latest tunes. Since my alarm goes off at the top of the hour, the radio announcer says:
“It’s the top of the hour on this Memorial Day, and now it’s time for the news. In honor of Memorial Day, I’d like to say thank you to all of our veterans. I especially want to say thank you to the Native American veterans, who served a country whose government once took everything from them. Wow, now that is heroic!”
I smile with shock. I have never heard any radio host say such a thing.
I take a shower and head out to the local coffee shop. I order a strong cup of coffee and the barista says, “Best Wishes on this Memorial Day, sir.” I respond, “Well, thanks so much, as I am a veteran. I am also Native American.”
The barista responds, “That is impressive, sir, I am currently learning in my college American history class that Native Americans have served in all branches of the U.S.military as far back as the French and Indian Wars, in which they fought with both the French and the English.”
“Yes I know, I am Mohawk,” I say. The barista responds, “OMG, then your ancestral brothers were fighting their own brothers!”
“Yes,” I say, impressed that a college is teaching real Native American history to our youth.
“I also learned that Native Americans – both men and women – have served in every military conflict since the Civil War, in huge numbers!”
Again impressed, as I walk out of the coffee shop, I tip the barista 20 bucks. I look down at the 20 dollar bill and see a picture of Harriet Tubman, who has replaced the president who started the Cherokee Trail of Tears. I smile yet again.
I drive from Virginia Beach to Washington D.C. and there is no traffic all the way. (Hey, it’s my perfect day.)
I arrive in time to see President Barack Obama paying homage to our nation’s veterans at Arlington National Cemetery. As the military band plays in honor of those fallen soldiers, as well as to the grave of the unknown soldier, a period of silence befalls the crowd in honor and remembrance. After a short period of silence, President Obama returns to the podium.
The president speaks:
“It is fitting today that we make one more gesture of respect, to honor all those Native American veterans who gave so much, who joined the military before they could even legally vote or before they were even considered citizens, to those Native Americans who gave their lives as code talkers. For all of them, this Native American honor song will be played.”
A drum begins to play with the all-too-familiar beat of a drum group, and 20 Native voices begin to fill the air. As the drum group begins to play, a long line of jingle dress dancers, Fancy dancers in regalia, traditional dancers and more follow a proud Native American color guard, its flags waving in the wind.
President Obama calls out, “Will all Native American veterans here today please join the dance!”
And we do, hundreds of us, in various combinations of regalia and military uniforms. The drum beats louder and everyone feels the power in the air — they feel the power of the heartbeat of Mother Earth. They feel the dream, they feel the drum.
The drum plays several songs and at the end of it, all the crowd roars with cheers.
When I get home, walk in the door and set down my keys, I flip on the television and see President Obama and the Native veterans on the news.
My wife comes into the room and smiles, “Happy Memorial Day to my own special veteran,” she says and gives me a kiss.
I smile with pride, having just experienced the Perfect Native American Memorial Day.
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Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling