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Native American veterans get Minnesota Capitol honor

Gene Goodsky salutes Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday, May 22, 2014, during a Capitol ceremony honoring Native American military veterans. Goodsky is a member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa military honor guard. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)1 / 3
Glynn Crooks of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and Chairwoman Erma Vizenor of the White Earth Nation unveil a plaque Thursday, May 22, 2014, on the Minnesota Capitol grounds honoring Native American military veterans. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)2 / 3
Military honor guard members prepare for a ceremony honoring Native American veterans Thursday, May 22, 2014, in front of the Minnesota state Capitol building. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)3 / 3

ST. PAUL — Native Americans volunteer for the U.S. military in higher percentages than any other ethnic group, and now the state of Minnesota is officially recognizing that service.

At the conclusion of a Thursday ceremony in front of the state Capitol, Chairwoman Erma Vizenor of the White Earth Nation and Glynn Crooks of Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, wearing a traditional headdress, pulled up a prisoner of war-missing in action flag to unveil a plaque in the Capitol’s Court of Honor.

“It is so appropriate just before Memorial Day to honor our veterans, both past and present, to have their spirit among us,” Vizenor said afterward.

The chairwoman worked since 2005 to get the plaque installed, and lawmakers this year approved the honor.

Despite past injustices perpetrated against Native Americans by the federal government, Vizenor said Native Americans have strong feelings that lead to military service.

“We have a very strong spirit of love for people and service to people and to care for one another,” she said. “We believe in sharing. It is our values of sharing and caring for not only the land but the people.”

During the ceremony, state Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito said military officials studied why Native Americans are more likely to join the military, and credited their strength, honor, devotion, pride and wisdom.

In World War II, Shellito said, 44,000 Native Americans joined the service out of 850,000 in the country at the time. Since the Revolutionary War, he said, Native Americans have been a major part of the military.

During the Vietnam war, he added, 90 percent of Native American military personnel volunteered. Crooks, who noted that an eagle flew over the ceremony, was one of the Vietnam volunteers. He served from 1969 to 1975.

The Thursday ceremony included the unveiling of the plaque, which honors Minnesota’s Dakota and Ojibwe “who have honorably and bravely served proportionately higher than any population in the United States armed forces during peace time and war.”

Honor guards from White Earth and Bois Forte Band of Chippewa participated in the ceremony, along with traditional Native American drummers and White Earth spiritual leader Mike Swan.

Gov. Mark Dayton thanked Vizenor for her work on the plaque and reminded about 200 people in attendance that they also need to remember families who remain home while military personnel are deployed. He said they suffer, too.

Rep. John Persell, D-Bemidji, and Sen. Rod Skoe, D-Clearbrook, sponsored the bill to authorize the plaque.

“It just had to happen,” said Persell, an Air Force veteran.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.