Native Village
Youth and Education news

Volume 1, January 2012
Native American Soldiers Beat Drum of Warrior Spirit
Condensed by Native Village

Our Warrior Spirit: Native Americans in the U.S. Military


Washington D.C.:  Last month, Native American soldiers were guests at the National Museum of the American Indian. The veterans drummed, sang, and told their stories of the wars in Iraq, Korea and World War II.  One even knew Crow scouts at the Battle of Little Bighorn.


Among those attending:


Joseph Medicine Crow - Obama Honors Sixteen With Congressional Medal Of FreedomJoseph Medicine Crow, a 96-year-old World War II veteran, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. He also earned a Bronze Star and one of France's highest honors, the Legion d’honneur.


Medicine Crow is the grandson of White Man Runs Him, one of George Armstrong Custer’s Crow scouts.


Growing up, Joseph spoke Crow and English and acted as interpreter when his grandfather was interviewed about the battle. He became so interested that he became the tribal historian.


Medicine Crow told the NMAI audience that he had completed the four deeds necessary to becoming a war chief. One was stealing an enemy’s horse.


“In World War II, I managed to have captured 50 head of horses. These were not ordinary horses. They belonged to SS officers, you know,” said Crow.


“And here’s this sneaky old Crow Indian now following them, watching them. So they camped for the night. I sneak in there and took all their 50 head of horses, left them on foot. So I got on one, looked around there and I even sang a Crow victory song all by myself. Crows do that when they think they’re all by themselves. They do things like that. So I sang a victory song,” he said.













Chuck Boers

He recounted many tales and then asked everyone who wanted to

 join him in dance to get up on stage.

“So now, to honor the memory of those who didn’t come back, warriors in uniform, and also to say thank you to those modern Indian boys and girls in service throughout the world, I’m going to sing my old song, my war song,” Joseph Medicine Crow said as he began drumming and singing.

Chuck Boers (Lipan Apache/Cherokee) is an Iraq War veteran who received two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.  Boers and Crow are the only two living war chiefs.  Boers gained his title on December 31, 2009.  He served 26 years in the Army and retired that same day.


Herman J. Viola is curator emeritus at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. 


"Native Americans have willingly served in the U.S. military during every one of its wars and their numbers in the armed forces today exceed the percentage

Herman J. Viola and Native American Soldiers
Herman J. Viola speaks to guests at the National Museum of the American Indian

of any other ethnic group,” he wrote in his book, Warriors in Uniform: The legacy of American Indian heroism.


In the 1800s, Viola said, the U.S. military placed Native people in all-Indian groups like scouts. The fear was that white soldiers would have to take orders from an Indian.


“One officer said Indians in uniform with our soldiers would ruin the moral

fiber of our Army. Indians don’t have the patriotic instincts that an American must have.


“But the big break-through for Indians came in World War I. Thousands and thousands of Indians enlisted. Several tribes declared war on the Germans. They weren’t citizens but they felt their country was in danger and they went to war.”


The Germans, he said, were very good at intercepting messages. Finally, one fellow with two Choctaw boys in his unit

asked them “would you mind sending messages in your language? And maybe we can make something happen here so the Germans won’t understand us.”


John Emhoolah

“So the Choctaw became major code talkers, but other tribes were also code talkers in World War I,” Viola said.

John Emhoolah (Kiowa) joined the Oklahoma National Guard when he was still in high school. Later, he helped lobby for the passage of the Native American Religious Freedom Act.


Debra Kay Mooney (Choctaw) is an Iraq War veteran. In 2004, Debra's prayers led her to organizing and hosting  a powwow in an Iraq war zone.  Permission was quickly granted by her battalion commander.


And then the work began.


“The drum, of course, was the pivotal point. If we couldn’t get a drum, we couldn’t have a powwow,” Mooney said.

The first person she called was Marshall Gover.

“Marshall Gover is actually my adopted uncle, and he’s a Vietnam vet and has been into powwows most of his life. So, I called him and asked him what to do. He asked me what I was going to do about a drum. And he was

Debra Kay Mooney

willing to jump on a plane and bring his drum team with him from Pawnee, Oklahoma, to the war zone.


“But he took his time to make sure I knew everything about putting a powwow together. He made sure I had all the pieces and parts that I needed to know how to tell these guys what to do. The second call was my mother, which is his sister — my adopted mom, and told her what we were doing and what I needed and she went to work on her end,” she said.

The powwow was open to all and became an opportunity to educate soldiers on Native culture. 300 people from the base attended. It gave them a chance to relax and breathe America.


“What’s more American than Indian?” she asked. “We even coined the phrase that the drum is the heartbeat, the spirit of the Native American.”

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