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Invictus Insights

Native Americans and Military Service

By: Sage Cesspooch

In 1990 President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 National American Indian Heritage Month. “American Indians were the original inhabitants of the lands that now constitute the United States of America,” noted H.J. Res. 577. “Native American Indians have made an essential and unique contribution to our Nation” and “to the world.”1 As a defense contractor Invictus recognizes the contributions Native Americans have made to the National Security of the United States.

George Washington recognized “Indians were vital to the national security, and on occasion the very survival, of the fragile [American] republic.” Throughout his first term, Washington often dined with Native peoples, including Mohawks, Senecas, Oneidas, Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Creeks.”2 Polly Cooper (Oneida), brought food and supplies to starving American soldiers at Valley Forge during the American Revolution. Generations of Native Americans have served in the armed forces, often in extraordinary numbers since the American Revolution.

During World War I, Native American women supported the Allied cause as nurses and as volunteers for the Red Cross, while Native families purchased some $25 million in war bonds––about $75 worth for every American Indian man, woman and child. During World War II, American Indian women served in a military capacity alongside the roughly 12,000 Native women who worked in war-related industries and the uncounted and unsung “army” of Indigenous women who took over jobs formerly performed by men in reservation communities.3 The Navajo Code Talkers who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II provided US forces with an unbreakable code that could be quickly delivered and received by front line units communicating with the Command Element.  “During the invasion of Iwo Jima, six Navajo Code Talkers were operating continuously.  They sent more than 800 messages.  All were transmitted without error.”4 Numerous Medal of Honor Recipients are Native American.  Master Sergeant Woodrow W. Keeble (Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota) served in World War II and was again called to service during the Korean War, where he notably volunteered as an individual augmentee from the 164th Inf. Reg. to deploy to Korea.  When asked why he volunteered he replied “Somebody has to teach these kids how to fight”.5

In recent conflicts, Army Specialist Lori Piestewa (Hopi), served in the Iraq war in 2003 and was one of the first service members killed during the opening days of the conflict.

For some, the Indigenous commitment to the U.S. military doesn’t make sense. Why would Indians serve a country that overran their homelands, suppressed their cultures, and confined them to reservations?  Native people have served for the same reasons as anyone else: to demonstrate patriotism or pursue employment, education, or adventure. Many were drafted. Yet tribal warrior traditions, treaty commitments with the United States, and responsibility for defending Native homelands have also inspired the enduring legacy of Indigenous military service.6

For additional information on contributions listed above, I invite you to explore the sourcing hyperlinks below:

1U.S. Senate: Celebrating National Native American Heritage Month

2The Indian World of George Washington | AMERICAN HERITAGE

3Why We Serve: Exploring the Legacy of Native Americans in the U.S. Armed Forces | NMAI Magazine (

4Navajo Code Talkers and the Unbreakable Code – CIA

5 Biography for Master Sergeant Woodrow Keeble Winner of Medal of Honor for the United States Army

6Why We Serve (