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Native American veterans sought for ‘Words of War’ project

BOSTON – An anthropology professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston is inviting Native American veterans to participate in an anonymous online survey to track the relationships between Native American history, colonial wars, and U.S. military language in conflicts of the last 50 years.

Professor Steve Silliman of the university’s Department of Anthropology, said the project, called “Terms of Engagement: Understanding the Words of War,” is designed to study how military personnel use figures of speech to explain, describe, or get through times of conflict.

“We are interested in knowing how often certain phrases – such as those that refer to “the Wild West,” “Indian country,” or “cowboys and Indians” – were used in particular wars, who used them, and when. Many have studied the larger contexts of war or have made assumptions about those who fight in them, but few have studied directly the experiences and words of those who participate in the military and how these relate to Native American history and culture today. We want to hear directly from the soldiers and officers themselves about their experiences,” Silliman said.

Native American veterans or active personnel who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces from the 1960s onward can access and complete the survey online.

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The survey should take between 10 and 15 minutes to complete, depending on the level of detail the participant wishes to provide.

Participation in the survey is completely voluntary and anonymous. Silliman is encouraging participants to complete the survey online since it will be faster and will save paper and postage costs, but participants may request paper versions by sending an e-mail to

Participants may choose at the end of the survey to be contacted for a follow-up interview, but this step is completely optional and entirely confidential.

Participation is “so important,” Silliman said, “so that we may gather as much information as possible on the diversity or consistency of military language from the people who use it. The more responses we receive, the more representative our survey will be.”

The information collected from the survey will be analyzed by University of Massachusetts Boston researchers and will not be published or presented in a way that would allow anyone to identify the individual participants. The project researchers have no affiliation, funding, or contract with the U.S. government.