Ivan Star: Struggling with the warrior heritage in Indian Country

The following is the opinion of Ivan F. Star Comes Out. All content © Native Sun News.

Ivan F. Star Comes Out

Is it time to rethink the warrior tradition?
By Ivan F. Star Comes Out

A gentleman by the name of Randolph Holy-Day laid a question in front of me and asked for my view on it. He asked, “Is it time to rethink the warrior tradition?”

Of course, most of us are aware of that proverbial “warrior tradition” that is synonymous with native people and generally accepted by the citizens of the new nation and possibly the world.

He continued with, “It was and is a high honor to be a veteran. However, every conflict since Korea has been illegal under the U. S. Constitution and international law. Should we commit our native sons and daughters to wars that violate the laws of America and the world? Your take on this, please.”

I have often pondered that “warrior heritage” that we are known for. Were our ancestors really all that they were purported to be? It makes them appear as if they did nothing but fight, kill, and fight some more. Let’s keep in mind the fact that the early European settlers were afraid of the continent’s original inhabitants and I believe their fear is responsible for this native “warrior” ideology.

Reinforcing this belief are historical facts like Custer’s defeat at the Greasy Grass in 1876. Men like Geronimo, Chocise, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and many others have been historically portrayed as savage warriors whose only purpose in life was to annihilate innocent settlers and miners, including women and children, and scalping and dismembering every single one of them.

I believe that concept is so powerful that we have accepted it as part of our own native heritage. As a result, native men try hard to live up to it. According to tribal officials, Pine Ridge alone has about 4,000 veterans. It is proof that native people have always sent their sons and daughters to fight wars the United States engaged in since WWI.

This seedy dogma leaves a huge void in the humanity of native people, at least in my mind. I am sure they did not run around covered in so-called “war paint” and “war bonnets” donned and brandishing weapons of destruction and death every single day of their lives. Today, that erroneous view remains in bizarre “tomahawk chops” and inhumane imagery, like the “Chief Wahoo” mascot.

Yes, there were times when our ancestors had to fight to protect their families, their elders, their children, and their way-of-life from intruders. There was even a time when young native men were recruited to fight on the side of the British as well as the Colonists. Ironically, these same European nations turned on the very natives they used to help fight their wars against other European nations.

Actually, our ancestors have been fighting for their very existence since Columbus “discovered” the new land. This “fighting” which is mostly defensive, began with physical combat and gradually shifted to struggling against extinction of their cultures, languages, and histories. I think this was the only time in history that they had to defend against total annihilation.

Sitting Bull (Hunkpapa) has been cited for the following quote, “Warriors are not what you think of as warriors. A warrior is not someone who fights for no one has the right to take another life. The warrior for us is the one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elders, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.”

As for the illegality of modern-day wars like Korea and Vietnam, the US Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) states “Congress shall have the power to… declare war.” In other words, the term “declaration of war” must be used in the title of such an assertion. The fact that the constitution does not provide a specific format may have given rise to the legality of recent wars.

In my research, I found a complicated mess. In fact, there are only five wars that have been declared by Congress, the War of 1812 (June 18), the Mexican-American War, (May 13, 1846), Spanish-American War (April 25, 1898), World War I (December 7, 1917), and World War II (December 8, 1941).

The so-called “Indian Wars” and the Great Civil War were classified technically as conflicts and engagements, not declared wars. These include the Philippine-America War (1893-1903), Nicaragua in 1927 as well as the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia.

Some “wars” were extended military engagements that were authorized by United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) and funded by Congress. The Korean War (UNSCR 425, 1950), the Persian Gulf War (UNSCR), the war in Bosnia (UNSCR 770, 776, 1992), was all classified under this process. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (August 7, 1964) which started the Vietnam War passed the Senate with an 88-2 vote and the House with 416-0 vote.

In direct response to the gentleman’s query, “Should we commit our native sons and daughters to wars that violate the laws of America and the world?” It is highly unlikely that this will happen today. In view of the numerous military accomplishments by natives while serving in the military in nearly all the wars the U.S. had engaged in, we have a duty to respect and honor them.

We have the code talkers from World Wars I and II. The Navajo are renowned for this task that many contend won the “Big One.” There is Ira Hayes (Pima), a Medal of Honor recipient. I include my own cousin, Glen Bores A Hole (descendant of No Water), who was given a heroes’ welcome home for his deed in combat in Korea. That warrior image is certainly deep-rooted in modern native society.

If the possibility of rethinking our warrior heritage is to occur, it will be very slow and gradual. One of the things I learned was that we are not heartless fighting and killing machines. As for committing our youth to modern-day wars or conflicts or engagements, I believe it is at the discretion of each individual.

The fact that most young men and women enlisted “because I come from a military family” cannot be denied. My own enlistment was to take advantage of the educational benefits I earned and to use that to elevate myself out of the dismal poverty that dominants nearly every reservation, even to this day.

However, I struggled with this “warrior heritage” for more than 45 years. Although I was denied my personal goal, I eventually realized a better life to be had away from the military. As a result, I did not want my children in the military and urged them toward education instead. However, one of them became a Marine but I am humbly grateful that he is doing well today.

(Ivan F. Star Comes Out, POB 147, Oglala, SD 57764, (605) 867-2448, mato_nasula2@outlook.com)

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