The Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support celebrated National Native American Heritage Month with a virtual observance on Nov. 10 at its Philadelphia headquarters.
James Metcalfe II, the director of the Western New York National Cemetery and a citizen of the Seneca Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, was the event’s keynote speaker. He addressed this year’s theme of, “Grounded in tradition, resilient in spirit.”
“Events like today allow us to appreciate different perspectives, backgrounds and talents,” said DLA Troop Support Deputy Commander Richard Ellis, who introduced Metcalfe. “Recognizing the importance of diversity and inclusion, and appreciating other points of view, ultimately results in a stronger workplace.”
Nearly 19 percent of all Native Americans have served in the military, Metcalfe said, compared to an average 14 percent of all other ethnicities.
Further explaining the numbers of Native American military service, Metcalfe said:
- 12,000 Native Americans served in World War I despite not being recognized as American citizens at the time.
- 10,000 Native Americans served in the Korean War.
- 25,000 Native Americans served in World War II, when the entire Native American population was 350,000.
- 44,000 Native Americans served in Vietnam, including 800 women.
- 133,000 veterans identify as American Indian or Alaska natives.
- 29 of the nearly 3,500 Medals of Honor awarded, were earned by Native Americans
“Among the 574 federally recognized tribes, each with their own cultures, traditions and belief systems, military service remains unremarkably consistent,” he said.
Metcalfe is a veteran himself, first serving with the Army Reserve and later active duty with the Quartermaster Corps in Logistics, where he was deployed to Bosnia from 1995 to 1996.
“I am very grateful for my military service and to be able to serve my country and better my family,” he said.
Metcalfe also served as the principal manager of 19 national cemeteries, leading missions to honor veterans and eligible family members with final resting places in national shrines.
Native Americans’ service to the military, however, “presents a paradox,” Metcalfe said.
“It is fraught with history,” he said. "Given that history, why is it we have this remarkable legacy of Native American military service?
“[Natives acknowledge] the mistreatment our tribes have suffered at the hands of the United States, yet we still imagine a different and tribal life in the future, and that the U.S. will honor sovereignty, which may be why so many cultural celebrations incorporate the American flag now,” Metcalfe said.
Despite this history, most Native Americans who join the military genuinely want to serve this country, he said.
“This is a deep patriotism, a belief that despite all that has happened, that the United States can be better, and we want to be a part of that,” Metcalfe said.
Native American elders are also working to keep the traditions alive and pass them on to younger generations, he said.
“Natives have had a long history and heritage here in North America,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re just like every other demographic. We want the best for our families – education, jobs. We want to serve our country and we want to be a part of something.”