Today, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) joins all Americans in honoring the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces. For over twenty years I served alongside men and women from every walk of life and from every corner of this country, to protect our freedom. It is my privilege as the President of NCAI to recognize the sacrifice and selfless contributions of our nation’s service members, of both Native and non-Native heritage. Our unified purpose to defend our constitution, our people, and our sovereignty, is the greatest equalizer and American Indian and Alaska Native people are proud of our contribution to the United States.
American Indians and Alaska Natives serve at the highest rate per capita and we honor the place of warriors in our communities and in our culture on a daily basis. In Indian country we always recognize our veterans first, they open our ceremonies, and they carry the flags of our nations. Our veterans are our most valiant warriors. And yet, we as a country and as tribal nations can always do more on a daily basis to honor and serve our veterans. In the days and months to come it will be imperative that we continue to improve our services for our returning veterans.
According to the federal government, there are over 137,000 American Indian and Alaska Native veterans living in the United States and ten percent of these veterans are women. The Pentagon estimates that nearly 24,000 American Indian and Alaska Native active duty personnel currently serve across the Armed Forces. On a daily basis active duty members become veterans and too many times our veterans return home to find that their greatest challenges still lie ahead.
At the National Congress of American Indians, we remain committed to finding the path for our veterans to become tribal leaders, teachers, business owners, active citizens, and successful parents. NCAI continues to be fully dedicated to serving veterans when they return to civilian life. We’ll continue to work with the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the agency’s Office of Tribal Government Relations to remember our veterans with the greatest honor; reciprocating their service with an equal or greater dedication to serve them.
I extend NCAI’s deepest gratitude to our nation’s veterans today and to their families. Thank you for your service.
Jefferson Keel, Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation and President of NCAI, served over twenty years in the United States Army. He served as a Platoon Sergeant and Platoon Leader, both in peacetime and in combat. President Keel also served two extended tours of duty in the 1st Cavalry Division and the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam and received numerous awards and decorations for heroism, including two Purple Hearts.