Why We Serve:
Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces
Open March 23 – August 1
Honoring the generations of Native Americans who have served the U.S. in the Armed Forces. Veterans and current service members of the U.S. Armed Forces receive FREE admission to the Eiteljorg Mar. 23 – Aug. 1.
Photo by Horace Poolaw. 45POW29 © Estate of Horace Poolaw
An enduring legacy of Native military service
Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces honors the generations of Native Americans who have served in the armed forces of the United States – often in extraordinary numbers – since the American Revolution. For some, the Native American commitment to the U.S. military doesn’t make sense. Why would Native Americans serve a country that overran their homelands, suppressed their cultures and confined them to reservations?
Native peoples have served for the same reasons as anyone else: to demonstrate patriotism or pursue employment, education or adventure. Many were drafted. Yet tribal warrior traditions, treaty commitments with the United States and responsibility for defending Native homelands have also inspired the enduring legacy of Native American military service.
Why We Serve is a traveling exhibition of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian. Artworks from the Eiteljorg Museum’s collections will supplement the NMAI exhibition, and engaging public programs are planned.
Image credit: Pictured above, Honor dance welcoming home Pascal Cleatus Poolaw Sr. (right, holding the American flag) after his service in the Korean War. To his right are members of the Kiowa War Mothers. Carnegie, Oklahoma, ca. 1952. Poolaw (Kiowa, 1922–1967) remains the most decorated American Indian soldier in history, having earned forty-two medals and citations during three wars: World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Photo by Horace Poolaw. 45POW29 © Estate of Horace Poolaw
Looking to learn more?
Here are some recommended resources so you can dive deeper into the themes of Why We Serve.
- Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces by Alexandra N. Harris and Mark G. Hirsch
- Native Words, Native Warriors on Native Knowledge 360°
- A Conversation with Why We Serve Co-Author Alexandra N. Harris