Many people don’t realize that American Indians are, in general, a highly patriotic group. A higher percentage of Indians serve in the military than any other ethnic group, and Indian pow-wows are patriotic affairs featuring presentation of the American flag and tributes to veterans.
In today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune, columnist Nick Coleman reports on the funeral of Sheldon Hawk Eagle, a Lakota soldier in the 101st Airborne who was killed in Iraq. The funeral took place in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. Coleman is a liberal Democrat, and his account is filtered through that sensibility, but the patriotism of the Indians attending the funeral comes through nevertheless.
Brig. Gen. David Ralston traveled to Eagle Butte to posthumously award a Bronze Star and Purple Heart to Hawk Eagle. Speaking of Indian soldiers, Gen. Ralston said: “Their dedication and commitment is absolutely overwhelming.”
Out of 14,000 enrolled members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, there are more than 500 Vietnam veterans. Ninety members of the tribe are currently under arms, with 30 deployed in Iraq. Coleman quotes the tribal chairman: “We love our country more than any other race, because we were here first.” Another Indian says: “We come from a warrior people. As Lakota people, it is an honor to be a warrior and protect one’s homeland, one’s freedom, one’s family. We are deeply sorry that Sheldon has come home to us in a casket. But that does not dismiss the pride we feel in him.”
Hawk Eagle was buried in the tribe’s national cemtery in the Black Hills.
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