Source – pbs.org
- “…The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children – the future of humanity – Sitting Bull, Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux“
The Warrior Tradition
It’s part of an ancient tradition, and more – for some Native American tribes, a vital expression of their spirit. They have fought in every war the United States has waged since the nation began.
Being a warrior is more than about fighting, it is about service to the community and protection of their homeland.
What being a warrior means in Native American cultures has evolved over centuries with generational attitude shifts, outside influences, and complicated relationships with the United States.
Patty Loew, a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe and a consultant for The Warrior Tradition, describes the tradition as a broader interpretation of a warrior that includes being a protector and a provider.
“Native men and women fill that role through military service, through protecting the language, guarding the culture, providing food, shelter, education, and medical assistance to other community members. So for me, the warrior tradition is defined more broadly than just combat.”
Chuck Boers, a member of the Lipan Apache tribe, agrees that the warrior tradition isn’t always about combat. It’s about keeping the peace and making sure traditions and cultures stay aligned with values.
Those values have translated to higher rates of Native Americans serving in the military. That tradition continued for many generations in the Native American population because the warrior path was a significant way of life.
“We have the highest per-capita service rate out of any group in America because of the fact that our native people have always wanted to fulfill that warrior path,” said D.J. Vanas, member of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.
Elizabeth Perez, North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians US Navy
“So in joining the military, I got to reflect on what is the strength of indigenous people, indigenous women,” said Jamescita Peshlakai, Dine, Navajo Nation. “And we really are warriors because we defend the family, we defend what we love, we are the keepers of knowledge, and ultimately we have a say in where our people are going.”
As the view of what it means to be a warrior is evolving, it is moving away from just combat and military. For Native people, they are fighting to protect more than just their land. It’s their history and their people that they are protecting.
“There’s this questioning now that I see on the part of younger native people asking, do we have to define a warrior as combat or participation in the US military,” said Loew. “Can we think about warrior traditions differently? Can we say that someone willing to put their life on the line at an environmental protest, such as the Dakota Access pipeline water protectors, are they warriors?”
Activism has emerged as a different kind of “front line” in which Native people are validating their warrior tradition. Though it was a losing battle at Standing Rock for the water protectors, their message and purpose were only strengthened. It triggered a movement of solidarity, which to Loew, is the real warrior tradition.