On Veterans Day in the year 2000, I listened to a radio essay about the heroic military service of Native American men and women. Reporter Brian Bull described these warriors as America's "forgotten" veterans. He also stated that Native people had the highest enlistment rate of any minority group. I was immediately struck by the irony of the brave military service performed by a people whose ancestors had been ravaged by the ancestors of the same government that they were now choosing to honorably serve.
I was intrigued. Why would more than 8,000 American Indian men and women enlist in World War I? Enlist before they were granted United States citizenship and the right to vote? Their patriotism would be demonstrated again in World War II, where over 12,000 enlisted. Why were these courageous men and women being overlooked by Americans for their service to protect all Americans?
After documenting Native veterans for five years I am fortunate to have an invaluable partner, Gayle Yamasaki, join me in this work. Gayle contributes a reconciliation to these stories. It is our hope that through these photographs and stories, recognition and appreciation will result for the military service of America's First People.
I have heartfelt gratitude to the veterans who have shared with me their stories and the stories of their ancestors. In the time I spent with each veteran, there were sacred moments of laughter and tears. Many still carry their combat stories close to their hearts. For some, this is the first time their stories have been told. I hold this as a revered moment and feel privileged to be entrusted to safeguard them. Care for them, these are stories of courage, of hope, and will. These are stories to be remembered. Their ancestors are to be remembered.
Jeffery A. Mitchell