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National Native American Heritage Month

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Much of Idaho's history begins with Native American Tribes.  The Coeur d'Alene, Kootenai, Nez Perce, Shoshone-Bannock and Shoshone-Paiute contribute to the richness of Idaho's history and are each important to its future. 

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution I co-sponsored that recognizes this November as National Native American Heritage Month and celebrates the heritages and cultures of Native Americans and their contribution to the United States.  A provision in the resolution highlights some of these important contributions:  "Native Americans have made distinct and important contributions to the United States and the rest of the world in many fields, including the fields of agriculture, medicine, music, language, and art, and Native Americans have distinguished themselves as inventors, entrepreneurs, spiritual leaders, and scholars."    

An important contribution also recognized in the resolution is the honor and distinction with which Native Americans have served in the Armed Forces of the United States.  I have written often about the outstanding service of our nation's veterans, including this month as our nation celebrates Veterans Day.  Their commitment to our country continues to inspire.  Native American veterans are an important group of these American heroes. 

Native American service members have served honorably throughout our nation's history.  The U.S. Department of Defense reportedthat "historically, Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita when compared to other ethnic groups."  Additionally, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) detailedNative Americans' high rate of service over the years.  In addition to noting the service of Native Americans in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, the report includes the following findings:

  • Roughly 12,000 Native Americans served in the military during World War I.
  • More than 44,000 Native Americans served during World War II, when the entire population of Native Americans in the U.S. was less than 350,000 at the time.
  • Approximately 10,000 Native Americans served in the military during the Korean War.
  • More than 42,000 Native Americans served in the military in the Vietnam War, and more than 90 percent of these service members were volunteers.

Additionally, a high number of Native Americans continue to step up to protect our nation and defend our freedoms.  The VA estimated that 31,155 Native Americans serve in Active Duty, the Reserves and the National Guard.  A higher percentage of these service members are female as compared to all other groups of service members, and the number of young Native American service members (age 24 or younger) is nearly 14 percent higher than for all other service members.

As Native American Veterans have returned home and continue to return home from service, they make up an important part of Idaho's communities.  The Native American Veteran population in Idaho is estimated at 1,213.  As we recognize the significant contributions of Native Americans throughout this National Native American Heritage Month, tribute must also be paid to this remarkable group of America's heroes.  

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