Native Americans have played an important role in the US military and despite a contentious relationship with the federal government, their service in America's armed forces outpaces other groups. Why would Indian men and women sacfrifice so much for the very government that took their homelands?
The answer is something called "the Warrior Tradition", which is also the name of a WNED-produced documentary which debuts nationwide on PBS tonight and pays tribute to their stories, their culutre and heritage.
Among the topics explored is what could perhaps be one of the greatest ironies of Native Americans serving in the US military: despite the US government's handling of Native populations throughout the nation's history, more Native Americans per capita enlist in the armed forces than members of any other ethnic group.
Those who participated in the documentary explain that despite their mistreatment, the land from coast to coast remains their land, and they must defend it.
D.J. Vanas, an Ottawa Tribe member and and Air Force Veteran, says the Warrior Tradition remains real among its populations.
"It's about fightning for something bigger than your own personal welfare," Vanas said. "Protecting, defending, looking out for somebody else. A big part of that, too, is leadership by example, not leadership by perfect example but a leadership by setting an example that's worthy of respect."
The documentary features the voices of the veterans with no narrator. Larry Hott, producer and director, explains it was decided this was the most appropriate approach.
"At the beginning of the project we thought, maybe we need to have a narrator to lay out some of the history, maybe show the connections, the ligaments that connect the joints of the film," Hott said. "But in the end, the people who were speaking were so strong and their stories were so emotional that we were able to put them together in a certain kind of order. And the real trick was, how do you take what we call a survey film, which is a lot of disparate stories and time periods, and put it into a narrative that makes sense?"
The Warrior Tradition will air locally on WNED-TV, Monday at 9 p.m. More information is available here.