‘Why did you fight in a white man’s war?’

Navajo Marine code talkers on duty at Bougainville, Solomon Islands, c. December 1943. Front row, left to right: Privates Earl Johnny, Kee Etsicitty, John V. Goodluck, and Private First Class David Jordan. Back row: Privates Jack C. Morgan, George H. Kirk, Tom H. Jones, and Corporal Henry Bake, Jr. - Photo: NARA

Vincent Schilling

'The Warrior Tradition' premieres on PBS on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2019, during Native American Heritage Month

“A lot of people ask, ‘Why did you join a white man's war? They weren't nice to you.’ That may be so, still, this is our land.”

Peter MacDonald, Navajo Code Talker

PBS is releasing The Warrior Tradition, a one-hour documentary about Native American veterans and will first air on Veterans Day.

More than a dozen Native American veterans, from all branches of service to include the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Army National Guard, are featured in the film. The film covers a wide range of historical stories to include Indian Scouts, both World Wars, Vietnam, Korea, and ongoing deployments in Afghanistan and nearby territories.

Veterans from many Native nations appear to include Comanche and Apache Tribes of Oklahoma, the Mississippi Choctaw, Navajo Nation, Menominee, and several others.

The film addresses the duality of Native children — who were punished if they spoke their languages in boarding schools — later used their languages to submit secret code via radio.

The Navajo code talkers code is well-known as the military’s only code that was never broken.

Twenty-nine Navajo recruits, about to be trained as code talkers, arrive at Fort Wingate in April 1942

“That’s the irony,” said Patty Loew, member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, a professor of Journalism at Northwestern University, and a consultant for The Warrior Tradition in the film's release. “Here’s a government that has, at various times, tried to exterminate or assimilate Native Americans, destroy their culture, take their land, and yet here are Native Americans serving in the highest percentages of any race or ethnicity relative to their numbers in the US military.”

About The Warrior Tradition 

The Warrior Tradition airs Nov. 11 at 9 pm ET on PBS. The one-hour documentary, co-produced by WNED-TV Buffalo Toronto and Florentine Films/Hott Productions, Inc., tells the stories of Native American warriors from their own points of view – stories of service and pain, of courage and fear.

A trailer of the documentary is available here.

ICT Phone Logo

Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling and Instagram - @VinceSchilling

Email - vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com