Next Monday, our great nation will once again commemorate the sacrifices of our honored warriors on Memorial Day. This day has been officially observed on the last Monday in May since the days when Union troops honored their fallen soldiers during the Civil War.
Since time immemorial, Native Americans have honored their fallen warriors in much the same way. Numerous tales of memorable battles, shared victories, and in some cases, disappointing defeats were told and passed along from generation to generation. Many of these are still a part of Native oral tradition today and are being perpetuated by their people. Names of great Native American warriors such as Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and Geronimo are still being remembered.
The tradition continues to this day, and is perhaps even more poignant with the recent passing of Travis Yaiva, the last remaining Hopi Code Talker who, fortunately, was recognized for his contributions to our country. Many others were not as fortunate. Many gave the ultimate sacrifice for their families, people and country. Today, many others battle bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan in the war on terrorism. Much about war has changed over the past 50 or so years, but the accolades paid to those who gave their lives in battle remain the same. Years - perhaps even centuries from now - the life of Travis Yaiva, among many others, will still be remembered by his people.
It goes without saying that death is ultimately a part of life. There is, however, an almost "egalitarian" worldview of death that occurs during war; that perhaps a person's death somehow has more meaning or purpose when they are killed in battle rather than simply dying at the end of their expected lifespan. There is a time-honored sense of patriotic duty and pride - particularly among Native Americans - that comes from fighting in a war. Nobody knows that better than a Native veteran.
These esteemed individuals walk among us every single day - our fathers, brothers, husbands, uncles ... today, we even have mothers, sisters, wives and aunts who are military veterans. Yet nobody pays too much attention to them until days like Memorial Day or Veterans Day. They seem almost invisible, yet they live and interact with us in our everyday lives in so many different ways. They are quite proud of who they are and what they've given to this country, but all too often, they go unrecognized.
Regardless of how you feel about war, you can't argue the fact that military veterans from all branches of service who fought in past wars deserve to be respected for making the sacrifice to serve our country in its time of need in order for us to enjoy the freedoms that so many of us take for granted in this day and age.
Right now, many Native American veterans and communities are taking this to heart and doing their part to recognize their brothers and sisters both living and deceased. Not too long ago, the Navajo Hopi Honor riders did their part to honor not only Lori Ann Piestewa, but the sacrifices made by all Native American veterans. To this end, camaraderie and patriotism know no limitations.
On Memorial Day, we are not "Navajo," "Hopi," or "Zuni." We are quite simply proud Native Americans honoring our brave Native warriors who gave of themselves for the benefit of America as a whole, not just Native America.
So on Memorial Day, do your part and thank a veteran for making our country the great nation that it is. Whether it's a veteran from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf or any other war, be sure to let all of them know how important they are to you and how important they are to all of America.
Posted: Saturday, June 5, 2010
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As a Vietnam veteran, I am happy to see that Travis and Lori's memories are kept alive. A few years ago, on a visit to Second Mesa, I felt a sense of respect for veterans and an understanding of what it means to be a veteran that I don't feel in the rest of the country. As someone who is not Native American, I would like to thank everyone for sharing views about what it truly means to be a warrior/veteran. The rest of the country has a lot to learn.