August 18, 2009

Indians join military for paycheck?

11.0 Warrior of words

By Gyasi Ross[E]ven now, there’s still a lot of Skins in military service; thousands carrying on that tradition set by our valiant ancestors. I know for a fact there’s still a whole bunch of Skins in the military--many of them are the cousins that I refuse to hunt with! Just like our ancestors, they still take the job of being in the military very seriously and are incredible at their jobs.

Still, I wonder if the Skin representation in the military is “across the board” like it was at one time. I wonder if all nations--from all over Indian country--still have that “warrior spirit?” Whether--as with our ancestors--it is still a matter manhood, pride and dignity for Skins of all tribes and nations?

What I mean is many of my friends and relations who are veterans--these modern day warriors--come from places where there are very few economic and professional opportunities. Yes, these guys are hard-working, industrious and diligent. Still, the truth is that their talents would not have been fully developed if they spent their “warrior years” on economically depressed reservations. For many of them, in their search for opportunity, they decided to join the military as a “way out.” They honestly had to leave. And it’s a win-win for them because, in the military, they 1) get a chance to be the warriors that they were born to be, and 2) they have a regular paycheck.

Makes perfect sense to me.

I do not, however, know many active-duty (or recently discharged) Skins that come from tribes where there is substantial economic development or wealth as a tribe. I’m sure there are some; I just don’t know of many. Further, although I am positive there are some examples, I don’t know of a whole lot of Skins who receive a healthy per capita payment who volunteered to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. Not that I blame them. Heck, I don’t even get a per capita and I didn’t volunteer. So I feel you bro!

Still, it makes me rethink the notion that all Skins have the “warrior spirit” equally. It seems like if that was the case, Skins from the wealthy tribes would be compelled to join the military just like Skins from a lot of the large land-based (i.e. “poor”) tribes.

So I wonder: does “warrior spirit” mean “lack of economics and opportunity” nowadays? If all Skins had the same warrior spirit would all tribes be represented equally in the military?
Comment:  Ross makes a good point, I think. As I've said before, Americans are too quick to lionize warriors of all types, including Indian warriors. Today we'd vilify someone like Lincoln, who deplored the idea war, as a weakling and appeaser.

For more on the subject, see Billy Mills Defines "Warrior" and Sitting Bull Defines "Warrior."


Raidineh said...

In our post colonize era, I think of one motivations for enlisting is for economic and career opportunity. But some families have a generational tradition of service also. Being in such a extended family I have that tradition but found that not my calling. I think that warrior spirit also transcends to service to the people and the land. Ultimately this is the goal of being a warrior. Thus many feel modern warriors exist and sacrifice themselves in such a way. They exist in many public services, rights protection and efforts. All of which sometimes start or parallel personal interest in economic and career opportunity. But having something that drives you like the warrior spirit makes it much more special than just personal wealth.

dmarks said...

I've attended some tribal events and have noted right off how they make a big deal of honoring their military veterans. Something I feel is quite appropriate, and the rest of society should do a much better job of.

I never connected this to any sort of remnant of a Native American savage/warrior ethic, but guessed it had more to do with a tighter-knit community doing a better job of honoring its elders and community members who made sacrifices.

Rob said...

As you know if you've read this blog, Raidineh, I'm all for serving one's people. But as Sitting Bull and Billy Mills indicated, being a warrior is more than just confronting one's enemies with lethal weapons. We can and should fight for what we believe in, but with words and ideas rather than fists and guns.

Yes, DMarks, tribes often honor the Creator and military veterans at their gatherings. I'm not into either of these, but I respect the Indians' beliefs. They should honor whomever they wish to honor, of course.

But if I were playing devil's advocate, I'd ask, "What about the elders who are doctors, lawyers, or teachers?" The last time a veteran actually saved American lives was arguably in WW II. Many Native doctors, lawyers, and teachers could plausibly argue that they've saved or improved more lives than any Native soldier.