On Veteran’s Day 2020, the National Native American Veterans Memorial opened on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian. To complement the first national recognition of the distinguished service of Native Americans in every branch of the U.S. military, the Museum is now opening an extended exhibit, Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces. The exhibit covers more than 250 years of history, starting with the American Revolution. Through photographs, artworks, and personal stories, visitors learn about the call to duty for Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Native veterans. In addition to more familiar histories such as the Diné (Navajo) Code Talkers of World War II and code talkers from more than 20 tribes during World War I, the exhibit brings to the forefront the representation of Native American women, from four selfless Lakota nuns who served as nurses during the Spanish-American War to Specialist Lori Piestewa (Hopi), who died in combat during the Iraq War. By amplifying personal narratives, Why We Serve allows Native soldiers and veterans to share their own stories about serving in the U.S. military. The exhibit also tackles the conflicting interests of serving a country that has and continues to exploit Indigenous resources and homelands, sequestered Native Americans on reservations, and suppressed Indigenous cultures. In addition to the exhibition and memorial, NMAI has also created an online exhibition with additional resources. Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces runs Nov. 10 through Nov. 2023 at the National Museum of the American Indian. americanindian.si.edu. Free.
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