Soldiers before citizens

Soy Redthunder and Jim Smith. Photos by: Kelly West
"Every conflict that has come up, the native warrior has always been there."
Keith "Soy" Redthunder
Native American Vietnam War veteran

Warriors have always been important in Native American culture. Fighting to protect family, home and land continued as a priority even as white settlers took over and pushed Native Americans from wide and open lands to cramped corners. Native American veterans on the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation told us so this week when Kelly West and I talked to a couple of them on the reservation. 

Native Americans fought in this country's conflicts and wars before they even became citizens, said Keith "Soy" Redthunder, 64. Native Americans officially became citizens of the United States in 1924 under the Indian Citizenship Act. The Nez Perce Cemetery on the reservation has soldiers buried there from several conflicts including WWI which ended in 1918. 

"Every conflict that has come up, the native warrior has always been there," said Redthunder.

The contributions of Native American soldiers have been overlooked. But on the reservation ceremonies that honor veterans have meant a lot to those who have served, said Jim Smith, 63, a Vietnam War veteran.

"It (recognition) could go a long way to healing vets," said Smith, who also grew up on the reservation.

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