|tribes sought and some tribes didn’t. It was not a uniform, grassroots swelling of ‘Please make us citizens.’ Congress unilaterally bestowed citizenship on the
federally recognized tribes. I think it was largely benevolent. I think it was a thank you for all the Native American soldiers who volunteered for World War I and
the perceived patriotism that the U.S. military and government people saw.”
“Some tribes had historically friendly relationships with the U.S. government,” Loew continued. “Some tribes didn’t. It wasn’t something that was interpreted
the same way by all the tribes. And then when World War II rolls around and all of a sudden tribal members are subjected to the draft, some of the more militant
nations, especially those in the Northeast said ‘Wait a minute. You can’t draft us. We’re sovereign nations. Look at the Cherokee Nation cases in the 1820s. We’re
domestic, dependent nations. And we are sovereign over our own territory. So you don’t have the right to do this.’ They are saying this even as they are declaring
war independently on Germany and Italy. It’s one of those really interesting complexities. It’s messy, but that, to me, characterizes the strange relationship the
tribes have had with the U.S. government.”
However, with the advent of the Korean War when the clear lines between defense of one’s country and possible transgression into the affairs of other
sovereign nations began to get blurred, Native soldiers began to question their involvement. “Imagine coming from a community where you grow up being told
— and it is reinforced in your prayers and the teachings from your elders — that you’re connected to your environment and the two leggeds and the four leggeds
and the wing creatures and the creatures that crawl are your relatives,” Loew said. “And then you are in an environment where you are scorching that with Agent
Orange and the whole defoliation. That must have played psychological havoc with a lot of Native psyches. I think Jim Northrup really articulated it well when
he said ‘Here are baskets that look just like the baskets that my grandmother uses to winnow our rice. And I see them in this Vietnamese village and we are just
trashing and burning it.’ He is part of the bayonet end of America’s foreign policy. He was one of the vets who said there were so many Vietnamese people who
came up to him and pointed at his skin color and his eyes and said ‘Same, same’ while pointing at themselves and their own skin and their own eye shapes. I
think he wasn’t the only vet who was starting to make that connection between ‘Here are these indigenous brown people who are defending their land and
defending their culture and their way of life and is it all not that dissimilar from my own ancestors defending our culture, our way of life and our land. And when
they get home, they develop this political awareness that I think we still see today in the sovereignty and treaty rights pressures that Native people are putting on
the U.S. government, insisting that they have the right to exist on their own terms.”
Perhaps as a result of the questions that were raised by the Vietnam War, the American Indian Movement (AIM) was born. It became a voice for many
Vietnam veterans who became disgruntled with the dissonance between the ideology and the reality of their place in the U.S.
“It wasn’t a movement that started on the reservations,” Loew said. “It started in the cities where a lot of these returning veterans relocated. There was that
massive relocation effort on the part of the U.S. during the 1950s. Quite a few of the families who believed the empty promises of ‘You are going to live in a high
rise, luxury apartment,’ it was a one-way bus ticket to a flea-infested flophouse in the city somewhere. But a lot of those guys who moved their families there,
were either women who had worked in the defense industry in urban areas, migrated off the reservations during World War II to do their part or returning veterans
who had seen a little bit of the outside and decided that people in the cities lived a lot better than those who lived on the reservations. So they made the leap of
faith and moved to the city. Well they get to the cities and the promises aren’t kept. They are worse off than they were. They aren’t part of this color-blind
America. They are being discriminated against with jobs. And now they are cut off from their culture. They don’t have that network of kinship and clan that
sustained them through hundreds of years of bad history in terms of dealing with the United States. Now they are stranded and they get angry. This is the ground
in which the seeds of AIM take root and sprout.”
By the time the Iraq War started in 2003, serious questions were being asked. “There are people who are questioning the war in Native communities,” Loew
said. “I think in a lot of Native communities, in a contemporary sense — there is a word for warrior in every tribal language — there is a dialogue going on about
what that means. Does warrior mean picking up a weapon? Some define it that narrowly. But a lot of people today are defining it more broadly to people who
protect the language and culture and preserve the tribal customs. So people are saying ‘Why are we sending our young men and now women into the U.S.
military, to send them overseas when frankly, we’ve been treated pretty shabbily by the U.S. government? Why are we doing this?’ That’s one question. But I think
a lot of people are asking another question. So I think the question a lot of tribal members are asking themselves is ‘How do I reconcile this pride and this honor I
have for people who have served and process that on a personal level when in the larger context I am really struggling with sending our Native sons and
daughters to fight a war that is not ours and that is being waged by a government that has treated us poorly in the past. I think that is a messier question for a lot
of Native people to answer.”
In Loew’s view, there will not be a unified answer to the questions that are being raised. “It’s unclear how the warrior tradition will proceed,” Loew said. “There
are 562 federally recognized tribes that have Nation status as recognized by the U.S. government. And there are a whole bunch more that aren’t federally
recognized. There is a lot of diversity within those nations. Some are conservative. Some are progressive. Some are aloof. Some work with the U.S. pretty well.
There are a lot of different responses.”
But the end result may be that the U.S. military cannot count on blind Native soldier support during the next conflict as a type of conflict continues on within.
|Patty Loew on the set of the Wisconsin Public
Television show “In Wisconsin,” which she
produces and co-hosts.
|By Jonathan Gramling
Part 2 of 2
It was memories of her grandfather, who had been a part of Pershing’s Expeditionary Force that
pursued Pancho Villa into Mexico around 1916 and later fought in Europe during World War I that led
Patty Loew, a producer for Wisconsin Public Television and co-host of “In Wisconsin,” to consider making
a documentary about Native American soldiers and the U.S. military.
Loew, who presented “Way of the Warrior” at a Race & Media event sponsored by The Center for
Democracy in Action at Edgewood College on June 16, spoke to The Capital City Hues about the film in
the offices of WPT in Vilas Hall about the documentary and her fascination with her grandfather and
other Native American soldiers who fought for the U.S. even though they were not U.S. citizens.
During World War I and World War II, the interests of Native Americans and the U.S. military seemed to
coincide as there was an actual threat to U.S. soil. “There’s a real sense that they are defending their
nation, which may be their own Native nation or it may be the United States,” Loew said.
But even within that context, some of the tribes were trying to preserve their own sovereignty during a
period of national crisis. “They insisted that the U.S. government doesn’t have the right to conscript young
men because it’s an infringement of tribal sovereignty,” Loew said. “Citizenship was something that some