Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day for the ancestors

Although I've talked about it before, I want to add a little reiteration of the role of Alaska Native men and women in the armed forces while there's all of 50 minutes left on the Memorial Day clock. No matter - it's not a subject that should be limited to one day anyways.

Alaska Native and American Indian have contributed an incredible amount to this country in the centuries it has been around, and before that, a few millenia of "true patriots" - a phrase I recently heard to describe the warriors that defended this country even as English, French, and eventually American troops ensured it would be a hopeless cause.

Although more recent brave Native troops are also on my mind, something I read about President Obama made my mind turn to these much more removed ancestors. It seems Obama is getting some flak for honoring a tradition of laying a wreath at a Confederate monument. I get it - I understand the protest... but I also understand honoring those who died for a cause they believed in. I wouldn't, personally, choose to lay a wreath at a monument honoring Andrew Jackson, for instance, one of the most vehement of presidents about racial genocide regarding Native people. But I also wouldn't begrudge the family of Andrew Jackson honoring him in death, either... just don't ask me what I think about putting the guy on a $20 bill.

My point, though I seem to have wandered, is that history is rarely as cut and dry as we'd like it to be. When it comes to American history, we've long been taught about the bad Indians - the ones that murdered and made the West scary and exciting. It was partly because of these Indians that those who "settled" the West are seen as being so brave.

But weren't these not-really-all-that-distant Indians defending the country against invaders? What's more, defending it to the last man, far past the point where hope was lost for a freedom and liberty? I generally oppose touting confederate... well, anything, but I also oppose the idea that because people fought on the side that lost, they don't deserve honor and dignity in death.

History paints historic Native America generally two ways - as true savages, or (more recently) complete victims. But can we remember them as men, who fought with respect, to defend family and freedom? This memorial day, it is these warriors, these soldiers, these brave men and women I am remembering.

A few other Native Memorial Day bits:

Street where Alaska Native Veteran's totem pole (Warrior Pole) in Juneau is renamed "Warrior Street."

Black Hills National Cemetary honors Native Americans

American Indian ceremony at Chatanooga cemetary

Annual Texas pow wow for Memorial Day

Irish and Native cultures at the Montana Veteran's Memorial

Memorial Day pow wow in Columbus, Ohio

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