The Fourth of July has come and gone. America once again celebrated the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain with fireworks, barbeques and parades. What has gotten obscured behind all the flag waving is the fact that without the support and tremendous sacrifice of Native Americans, this would not have been accomplished.
The French and Indian War of 1754 was the prelude to the Revolutionary War of 1775. On both accounts it would be Native Americans that turned the tide in the battle, which two of the most powerful countries, USA and Canada would emerge.
For over 200 years Native Americans have had the highest record of service in the US military per capita when compared to other ethnic groups. This leaves little doubt regarding the patriotism, love of land, family and warrior spirit that still remains.
Not only have they served in every war, battle and conflict in support of America—their fearless resolve was first on display in the countless ‘Indian wars’ against Europeans in defense of tribal sovereignty and independence.
King Philip’s War of 1675 is one of them. After numerous violations, usurping of tribal lands and outlawing spiritual practices by the English the Indians of New England had had enough. Metacom, aka King Phillip, after which the war was dubbed, was the son of the great chief of the Pokanoket, Massasoit—the one who greeted the Pilgrims. King Phillip united with the war chief of the Nipmuc, Mattawamp, Narragansett Sachem Canonchet, and many other warriors who came together to form a powerful alliance to fight for their independence. This was one of bloodiest wars on American soil with heavy causalities on both sides amid mass destruction of English towns and Native villages.
This is just but one small portion of innumerable stories of tribes across the US and Canada who fought to defend their homeland.
Some may inquire how Native tribes came from such a ferocious resistance to the government, to being the most numerous ethnic group to serve the Armed Forces in history. It would be naive of me to think I had the answer. I would surmise it is as varied and as complex as are the hundreds of tribal nations across Turtle Island. However, seeing how this occurrence stretches across all tribes we may want to explore the intrinsic connection Indians have to the land to begin to find the answer.
My Nipmuc ancestors are amongst those who, “took up the hatchet against the English” during King Phillip’s War.
But after that they served diligently in the Revolutionary War. My great-great grandfather and his two brothers and their father, along with other cousins, served in the Civil War for the Union Army. They show up in the book by David J. Naumec titled From Mashantucket to Appomattox: The Native American Veterans of Connecticut.
There were many veterans and military personal from my direct family alone, and in 1996 Governor William Weld issued our people a plaque that bears the words, “In Honor of All Nipmuc Veterans from King Phillip’s War to the present.” On this commemorative plaque was a gigantic list of military veteran’s names, including my two brothers and I, who also served. My brother Charles is a Gulf War Veteran.
Now comes my 18-year-old son Mattawamp Nantai Mann. He just graduated from high school with honors and shortly thereafter joined the US Army Reserve. He’s a very bright kid and will serve as an engineer in the Reserves. He’s also enrolled at Wentworth Institute of Technology. Part of the reason he joined was to take advantage of college tuition opportunities. He is now part of a long list of family members who served the military dating back since recorded history. What makes it even more special is that he is the first to join of his generation in our immediate family. Am I a worried dad given all the conflict in the world? Hell yeah! Am I super proud of my son? Hell yeah!
Not to be overlooked: There are elders and tribal people who are opposed to the military. Their voices are valid, relevant and respected. Many of them are also warriors and have served their nations to protect tribal lands and a host of other issues.
But one thing’s for certain, when Indian people get together for events such as a Powwow, paying honor to veterans is one the most solemn occasions. Tribal drum groups from across the country have been composing sacred songs for generations to honor the veterans of their communities. It’s a very important event where many times a soldier returning home will be gifted an eagle feather for his/her service.
Without a doubt, during the nascent stages of America, Indian people found themselves in an enigmatic web of conflict while trying to decipher which Europeans really had their best interests.
This calls to mind the Iroquois chief Tanacharison, aka Half King. He and his warriors helped George Washington repel the French during the French & Indian War. But, it was said, Half King made it well known he wasn’t fighting for the Crown. He was fighting for the interest of his tribal people, his land.
That sentiment of Half King is something I can draw a parallel as one of the first things I learned during my time in the service back in 1986: Regardless of the mission or who’s running the government you are really fighting for your buddy, the soldier next to you.
So when you think about this land the way Native Americans do, it reveals a connection that goes beyond any political, social or monetary gain. It’s an inextricable bond to Mother Earth that is not only germane to our life but also our spirituality. The desire to fight and protect her against all odds seems inherent to the soul.
Larry Spotted Crow Mann is a citizen of the Nipmuc Tribe of Massachusetts. He is an internationally acclaimed writer, poet, cultural educator, traditional storyteller, tribal drummer /dancer and motivational speaker involving youth sobriety, cultural and environmental awareness. Mann is also a board member of the Nipmuc Preservation Trust, which is an organization set up to promote the cultural, social and spiritual needs of Nipmuc people as well an educational resource of Native American studies. He travels throughout the United States, Canada and parts of Europe to schools, colleges, pow wows and other organizations sharing the music, culture and history of Nipmuc people. He has also given lectures at universities throughout New England on issues ranging from Native American Sovereignty to Identity. In 2010 his poetry was a winner in the Memscapes Journal of Fine Arts and 2013 Nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is the author of the internationally acclaimed Tales From the Whispering Basket, as well as the newly released groundbreaking novel, The Mourning Road to Thanksgiving.