Dr. Wayne Mitchell spoke at the Heard Museum on Memorial Day in an event to pay tribute to Native American veterans who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Mitchell, Dakota Sioux/Mandan, served in the U.S. Coast Guard for six years. He is a life member of the Heard Museum Board of Trustees.
Mitchell told the audience that Memorial Day is a day to celebrate all veterans and on that day the Heard was recognizing the contributions made by Native Americans, who serve in the U.S. military at a higher rate per capita than any other group. “We are paying special tribute to American Indian veterans, warriors, men and women representing all tribes from across this great country,” Mitchell said. “We are paying tribute to American Indian warriors who gave of themselves in peace and in war, many with the highest possible level of service.”
During his more than 50-year association with the Heard, MItchell has been most inspired and proud of the institution's American Indian Veterans National Memorial. The memorial was dedicated in November 2012. "The wall tells stories of heroism and bravery and courage and sacrifice of American Indian veterans,” Mitchell said. “This monument honors American Indian veterans, warriors, but in addition I feel it also pays honor in some small way to my family.”
Mitchell has three brothers that served in the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines, while his uncle served in the military during World War I when American Indians were not even eligbile to be U.S. citizens, he said.
After his speech and the ceremony Mitchell enthusiastically agreed to talk and share his thoughts on military service.
So why did Mitchell choose to serve and why does he thinks Native American people join the military? He said the United States is historically an important part of American Indian life.
“Historically, this is our land and when you have outside forces that attack this country, they are attacking American Indian people as well,” he said.
Mitchell, on his opinion on how military personnel cope when returning from war, acknowledged that it’s a problem not only for American Indians but for anybody who serves in the military and a difficult one to overcome.
“Many of these men and women don’t want to talk about these experiences; they keep it to themselves,” Mitchell said. “If our government is sending young men and women off to war then they return they should be given help. They shouldn’t be ignored.”
In addition, he stressed that the Department of Veterans Affairs should provide veterans with all necessary medical services, mental health services, and other services they may need.
“If we are sending them off to war, we need to take care of them when they return,” he said.
At the conclusion of the conversation it was apparent that Mitchell felt proud of American Indian involvement in the military, but also felt strongly about the involvement of people honoring and supporting military veterans.
“I think all Americans should be aware of these [war] activities and we should do whatever we can in whatever way we can to give support to our military."