Memorial Day at Black Hills National CemeteryBy Richie Richards
Native Sun News Today Correspondent
nativesunnews.today STURGIS – Several dozen families of veterans and veterans of many wars gathered on Memorial Day for a special honoring ceremony for Native American soldiers sponsored by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Dignitaries invited to attend the special honoring included Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier, Congresswoman Kristi Noem, and Senator John Thune, sat among others from state and military groups. Among the first to speak during the event held at the Black Hills National Cemetery, was Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman, Harold Frazier. Although not a military person himself, Chairman Frazier has been on the front lines of many battles for treaty rights and as a water protector. Frazier has been active for the Oceti Sakowin (formerly Great Sioux Nation) for many years; active both on the prairies of North and South Dakota and during legislation in Pierre and Washington, D.C. “Thank you to all the veterans, to all those who served to protect this great nation. I myself am not a veteran. I never was in the military, but a couple of years back I was on that bridge that night when we were shot with rubber bullets, bean bags, water cannons, percussion grenades and tear gas,” said Frazier.
Chairman Frazier was referring to the PTSD he experiences as a result of the November 20, 2016 assault on protesters led by the Morton County Sheriff Department on a bridge near the Standing Rock camps set up to protect the Missouri River near Cannonball during the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline getting set to be built at that time. The temperatures on the night the water protectors were met with military-style tactics by police forces included the torturous measure of using water cannons against people in below-freezing temperatures, rubber bullets tore flesh from face and limb, bean bags shot from high powered rifles broke bones, all while the world tuned in via social media live feeds and up to the minute photos. Frazier was among those violated on that cold November night. “To me, it was really horrifying. It was like I was in a war zone. The one thing I seen and I learned was that it didn’t matter who was there, where they was from and who they were. All that mattered is we stood there in unity,’ Frazier said of the dedication of those who have since been referred to as “water protectors." This was an unnamed conflict referred to as “Standing Rock” and happened on American soil. During his impassioned speech, the Cheyenne River chairman talked about the importance of working together as tribal nations, as a state and as a nation, in order to create a world in which all voices are heard and respected.
Ryan Zinke (former Navy Seal for 23 years and Montana native) was sworn in as the 52nd Secretary of the Interior on March 1, 2017. His department has over 70,000 employees who act as stewards over about 20 percent of the United States land base. He was a Montana State Senator from 2009-2011 and was a Montana State Representative since 2014 before becoming Secretary. Zinke approached the podium with the dignity of a decorated soldier and as a citizen of the northern plains familiar with the struggles of tribal nations. “It’s an honor to be with you today. It should be recognized that Native Americans, by a people, serve more than any other people in this country,” said Zinke. “There are Native Americans that have sacrificed in every war.”
This high numbers of Native American men and women enlisting in the services is often attributed to the warrior societies many of these tribal members come from. But the reality is, many want to escape the social conditions present in their reservation communities. Accepting a role in the military often provides opportunities for travel, education, employment and learning trades not available on the isolated communities. The Secretary of Interior continued, “On Memorial Day, a day that we barbecue and spend time with our family, I think we should recognize that it is not our elders that we send to war. It is our young. It is the greatest treasures of our nation. We ask our young to go fight. As we enjoy our family time today, it is a lot of brothers and sisters, husbands and wives that are not here to share. Because they have gave their lives. If you must fight, fight for your family and for your people. When we do fight for our family, our country, our freedom.”