On Thursday, a plaque was unveiled in Minnesota and, in that moment, centuries of Native American military sacrifices were honored.
Chairwoman Erma Vizenor of the White Earth Nation and Glynn Crooks of Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, wearing a traditional headdress, unveiled the plaque from behind a prisoner of war-missing in action flag before a crowd of about 200 outside of the Minnesota State Capitol, the West Central Tribune reported.
“It is so appropriate just before Memorial Day to honor our veterans, both past and present, to have their spirit among us,” Vizenor said following the ceremony.
State lawmakers approved the plaque, now enshrined in the Capitol’s Court of Honor, earlier this year, though Vizenor had been working on realizing the plaque since 2005.
State Representative John Persell and Senator Rod Skoe – both democrats – sponsored the bill to authorize the plaque.
Vizenor said that Native Americans maintain a strong will to serve their people, hence why so many join the armed forces. Native Americans volunteer for the U.S. military in higher percentages than any other ethnic group, the Tribune reported.
“We have a very strong spirit of love for people and service to people and to care for one another,” Vizenor said. “We believe in sharing. It is our values of sharing and caring for not only the land but the people.”
State Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito said at the ceremony that military officials have researched why Native Americans are more likely to join the military. He credited indigenous North American strength, honor, devotion, pride and wisdom.
In World War II, Shellito said, 44,000 Native Americans joined the service out of 850,000 in the country at the time. Since the Revolutionary War, he added, Indians have played a major role in the military.
Crooks, who served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1975, said an eagle flew over the ceremony.
Thursday’s ceremony also honored Minnesota’s Dakota and Ojibwe “who have honorably and bravely served proportionately higher than any population in the United States armed forces during peace time and war,” the plaque reads.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton thanked Vizenor for her work on the plaque and told the crowd that they should also remember the families of military personnel who remain home. They suffer too, he said.