Long before Native Americans were considered legal U.S. citizens, before they had the right to vote, before they could even be drafted they were volunteering to fight for this country.
Despite their lack of rights in the U.S., more than 12,000 Natives volunteered to serve in the U.S. Military during WWI.
Native women were not to be outdone. Throughout WWI and WWII American Indian women served in the Army Nurse Corps, Army Corps and as WAVES or “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.”
Showing extreme patriotism, indigenous peoples have served in the country’s armed forces in greater numbers per capita than any other ethnic group, serving in every major conflict for more than 200 years.
“Native men especially, inherent to our warrior societies of the past were especially elated to join the fight for our mother land,” said Quanah Matheson, cultural affairs director at Coeur d’Alene Casino. “In so doing they brought the old honor back into their communities as heroes again as was in the olden times.”
A Sixth Sense
“Their so called sixth sense was unequalled on the battlefield and many a time were gathered to the front lines of the battle,” said Matheson.
The United States in WW1 actually used the Native as a propaganda tool to intimidate the enemy. They would drop leaflets into Europe stating “we have 100,000 Indians coming to fight.”
Europe had heard about the Indians’ wars against the Americans in the 1800s. Lavish stories about their courage, tenacity, sixth sense and power over bullets and death flooded their newspapers and books early on and when the war broke out, America used this to its advantage.
For many, when they think of Native American’s in the military they think of Code Talkers – an elite group of men who created unbreakable codes saving thousands of lives. The first codes were established near the end of WWI by Choctaws and Cherokees after a commander reportedly overheard two of his soldiers conversing in the languages.
Code Talkers made a larger impact in WWII when the government recruited Native Americans for the job. Comanche, Hopi, Meskwaki, Chippewa-Oneida and Navajo use their native tongues to transmit messages. The Navajo created the most complex code with more than 600 terms. Not a single code talker message was believed to have been deciphered in either war.
“The Natives of America gave the ultimate sacrifice to this country and the families they love! Many continue to do so today,” said Matheson.
Coeur d’Alene Tribe Contributions
Coeur d’Alenes hold a place in military history as well with members still serving today. Some of the early history is fading as Felix Aripa walked on in September. Serving in the Navy during WWII he was the last of the Coeur d’Alene tribal members who had served. Aripa was aboard the USS Thompson on D-Day at Omaha Beach. He worked tirelessly to teach his Native language to others and was just one of two remaining tribal members who were fluent.
We invite you join us in celebrating Native American Heritage Month – please stop back by for more interesting facts on the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Native Americans.
Lim lemtsh (Thank you)