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The diplomacy of Marine SSgt Edwin Fills the Pipe



Veterans Day has come and gone. The usual community powwows and school events remembering their community veterans, both deceased and living, are done until next year. Without fail and in the shadow of what is commonly practiced as Lakota tradition, families will remember their war veterans for a long time to come.

Many veterans and their families are becoming aware of the fervent colonial endeavor to claim the land according to the reputed discovery doctrine. As we all know, the U.S. military, its militias, and settlers, abhorred natives claiming they were subhuman savages. It didn’t bother them to kill men, women, and children indiscriminately. And then they tried to hide this aspect of their history.

Now, in a recent development, I am hearing young Lakota people expressing their difference with this time-honored Lakota activity with strong contempt for the veterans of the more recent wars. I recall non-natives back in the 60s asking a similar question, “Why do you volunteer to serve the government after what it did to your people?”

The question being asked now by these young obviously angry natives, “Don’t you know you are helping the rich get richer?” I have to admit there is truth to this but why reprimand and denounce the native veterans. We must keep in mind that these veterans have large families. Also, many of these veterans are blood relatives of those who fought oppression in the 19th century.

Not to be tacky, but I am reminded of a quote by the late theoretical theorist, Stephan Hawking, “People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.” Regardless of the truth, this idea of punishing native war veterans is annoying, abrasive, and divisive to the oyate (people) who continually endure racial atrocities.

I remind everyone of what is happening today in this country. The “Donald” has certainly elevated hate to the highest level possible, just short of civil war. He has turned patriotism into outright fascist nationalism. He has promoted disorder over civility. As native people, we need unity more than ever if we expect to survive this blitz on our very existence.

Considering Native Americans and Alaska Natives have served in every branch of the U. S. military since World War 1, it should go without saying that their efforts and distinguished services should be respectfully recognized by natives. At any rate, a little history helps put things in perspective, sometimes.

I offer a few little-known facts of native history. Natives were not citizens and thus not accountable to the draft but an estimated 12,000 natives enlisted and served during WW1 and have been doing it since. For many, it was an opportunity to continue their traditions as they went through ancient ceremonies before shipping out and upon returning.

Citizenship for natives was not determined by place of birth but by whether or not they had accepted an allotment of land and were thus considered “competent” by the federal government. Some native leaders called for citizenship to be conferred on natives before they were drafted.

“They are not citizens and have fewer privileges than have foreigners. They are wards of the United States of America without their consent or the chance of protest on their part.” (Dr. Carlos Montezuma, Wassaja Newsletter Editor, 1917).

The Onondaga and Oneida Nations declared war on Germany in 1918, for the beating and imprisonment of their members stranded in 1914 Berlin. Fourteen native women served in the Army Nurse Corps, with two Iroquois serving overseas, Mrs. Cora E. Sinnard (Oneida) and Charlotte E. Anderson Monture (Mohawk). Monture died in 1996 at the age of 106.

Also in 1918, on the Deep Creek Reservation in Utah and Nevada, in typical Euro-American fashion, the Indian agent explained that the draft registration was merely a census and that it did not mean they would be drafted. Several Goshute men refused to register for recruitment. The Indian agent then ordered their arrest for inciting draft resistance and tensions increased.

Rumors from both sides of the dispute added to the tension and distrust. The Goshute men armed themselves. When federal officials tried to arrest two of the men, the Goshute nation refused to surrender them. Army troops were called in to arrest the supposed “ringleaders.” 100 men were detained and six were arrested, and then eventually freed.

One of the problems facing the American forces during WWI was communication. English-speaking German soldiers easily intercepted radio transmissions as well as telephone conversations. While speaking native languages was discouraged in the United States – in fact it was often punished – many native soldiers were fluent with their languages and ironically provided an interesting solution.

The Choctaw code talkers pioneered the use of native language as a military code. Their coded messages regarding troop movements and other sensitive information contributed significantly to winning the war. Lastly, we have an old Lakota WWI veteran’s honoring song that speaks to the fact that they went to war and regained our right from U. S. Congress to gather to sing and dance.

It is unfortunate but some Euro Americans believe patriotism is solely for Euro-Americans and so do many natives. Violent extremists have claimed the equitable manifestations of patriotism for their kind only. The ideology of devotion to a homeland and the sense of alliance is actually a combination of many different features, including ethnic, cultural, political and historical aspects.

We have endured harsh conditions under their jingoistic or racist laws, not to mention lack of political representation, economic deprivation, health care issues, and ongoing struggle for preservation of identity and culture. For a brief time after WW1 ended, natives on the Pine Ridge had to get a pass to travel off the reservation and sometimes were accompanied by Indian police.

I believe in the possibility that we will have to defend ourselves. Until that time comes, I pray that does not happen. I am a veteran of that war in a tiny country called Vietnam and I cannot forget the fact that some of these Euro-Americans called me “Baby Killer” and chastised me for serving in Vietnam. Now I am being sharply criticized by my own kind because of my military service.

I am reminded of the late Marine Vietnam combat veteran, SSgt. Edwin Fills the Pipe. He had a way of dealing with people in which he acknowledged and respected a person’s freedom of choice. His profound diplomacy made people feel important. So, if these people can accomplish that, they can gain strong and honest support for whatever it is they are trying to accomplish.

(Ivan F. Starr, POB 147, Oglala, SD 57764; 605-867-2448

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