Remembering Indian Country's fallen protectors

On our Memorial Day show we are taking a look at what the holiday means to Indian Country
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We want to take a look back at the history of Native people who have served in the U.S. armed forces. Joining us today is Patty Loew, she’s a professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Illinois. She’s also produced several documentaries like the award winning "Way of the Warrior."

In 1954 American forces were deployed to the war in Vietnam. It was a brutal battle that killed more than 3 million people. More than 58,000 Americans in the armed forces were either killed in action or went missing. Among those who were killed was the brother of Reggie Pagaling. He is an elder in the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and talks with us about his brother Michael.

The Luxembourg American Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 5,000 World War Two soldiers. They died serving their country on foreign soil. Sgt. John Mercer is one of them. Sgt. Mercer is the great uncle of Ivy Vainio. Ivy joins us today with her husband Arne Vainio. He wrote about visiting the grave in a column in 2013.

A slice of our Indigenous world

  • The American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University is releasing a new article outlining ways to maintain Indian Country’s electoral power. 
  • The pandemic has brought many challenges, some even financial. 
  • The Oregon Senate approves a House bill that makes Indigenous People's Day an official state holiday.
  • Contestants on the show "Top Chef" recently had the chance to cook with some Indigenous foods. 
  • A Native comic book shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is launching a new anthology and a show.

Find more details on these stories at the top of today's newscast.

Some quotes from today's show.

Patty Loew:

"It goes back to something that Tom Holm calls, the Indian Scout syndrome. Native Americans have always been used by the military as frontline warriors. Part of it has to do with stereotypic notions about, crazy stereotypic notions that somehow Native people can see in the dark and can look at a single blade of grass and read volumes into it."

"And this willingness to push Native soldiers out in front. And everybody feels safer with people who really know what they're doing because they're bloodthirsty warriors. And of course that has tremendous ramifications for Native people. They find themselves disproportionately pushed into extremely dangerous positions and because of that suffer greater casualties." 

Reggie Pagaling:

"While you started this by saying the 1954, the year I was born and my brother passed in 1969. So this is just a little over 50 years ago. So as a young man, I remember him being a very athletic man. He'd gone off to the service and we were very proud of him. His nickname was Michael 'Peter' Pagaling, Peter for Peter Rabbit. And so the last time I remember him was really the chance I had to hunt with him."

"And watching him chase down a deer with a .22 rifle. It was quite a sight to see looking across the canyon and the seeing your brother, chase a deer down and harvest it with just a .22. Gosh, hard to say so many words about him, it's just with this Memorial day, it's always something different. My family was very proud of him. Very proud to serve in the service, like many Native American families." 

Ivy Vainio:

"I started searching and researching John and found him at Luxembourg American military cemetery. And that was so powerful to receive some information about him that my family didn't even know. So then Arne, my husband had this great idea that we should take a trip out to Luxembourg, and that's what we did in 2013 to honor my great uncle and our family. And it was so powerful and so moving to be at the grave site."

Arne Vainio:

"It was beautiful. Ivy had already been putting up a family flag at the Grand Portage Pow Wow every year. As Native people, everybody honors thier veterans. And there's a veteran song when they come out, when the grand entry is. And to know that he was so young and he did give his life for his country. To be there and to be among 5,076 white crosses in all perfect alignment and birds flying around it was a really peaceful scene. And to be able to see Ivy sitting by Johnny's grave was powerful in and of itself.

Thank you for watching!

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix. 

Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider.

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