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Stevens: 'Memorial Day Weekend, Is a Time to Recognize Our Relatives'

Ernie Stevens Jr. reflects on why American Indians as well as the country celebrate Memorial Day weekend.

The following is a statement by Ernie Stevens Jr., National Indian Gaming Association chairman:

For many, this weekend marks the beginning of summer. More importantly this weekend, Memorial Day weekend, is a time to recognize our relatives who have fallen during our wars.

Large numbers of Native people enlist for military service and represent the highest per capita enlistment of any ethnic group in the United States. The reasons vary from supporting their families and ensuring economic stability, to seeing the world. We are proud of their personal journey into the military and thank them for their service.

Our heroes who took the ultimate sacrifice for freedom are not forgotten. Our heroes are our great-grandfathers, our uncles and aunts, our cousins and our brothers and sisters. These are the people who understood that their way of life was threatened. Their strength and perseverance is the foundation of which we now stand upon.

Around the country, our Native people give thanks to our fallen, our veterans and our active military brothers and sisters. This weekend, the 3rd Annual Arrow Lakes Memorial Powwow in Inchelium, Washington will recognize veterans past and present. In Cass Lake, Minnesota, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe's Palace Casino will be host to the Veterans Memorial Pow Wow 2013.

And there is good news. Just this past Saturday, the Hawaiian Senator Brian Schatz (D) reauthorized legislation on the construction of a Native American veterans memorial on the Mall which will now allow the National Museum of the American Indian to assist with fundraising efforts, something that was left out in the original legislation. Senator Schatz reminds us that, "American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians served in all of the American wars since the Revolutionary War." This is a wonderful accomplishment, as here in Washington D.C., existing veteran memorials do not recognize the contributions of our Native service members.

We will continue to honor our relatives, like my wife's late father, Joseph Motoxen, who was awarded the Purple Heart for his service in World War II, and my brother David, a disabled veteran, who was named after our great-great-grandfather who fought in the civil war. During this time, we will visit with my father, Ernie Senior, who was a Marine Corps platoon leader at the age of 19, and a Staff Sargent during the Korean Conflict. We will recognize him at a ceremony this Monday with my grandmother, who is almost 103.

As we begin our days, our meetings, our pow wows, and the work that we do, we give thanks to those heroes who are also our relatives.

From the National Indian Gaming Association, we thank our military and recognize our fallen during this Memorial Day Weekend. Yawako! (Thank you)

Ernest L. Stevens, Jr. is the Chairman and national spokesman for the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) in Washington, D.C. Stevens is currently serving his sixth two-year term as the organization's leader. NIGA, established in 1985, is a non-profit organization of 184 Indian Nations with other non-voting associate members representing tribes and businesses engaged in tribal gaming enterprises from around the country. He is an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. He and his wife Cheryl of 34 years have five children, and 11 grandchildren.