What Lori Piestewa Died For
“Hoka hey!” cried the Sioux in 1876, “It’s a good day to die.” Maybe the Hopi Indians can say the same thing today, in 2003. PFC Lori Piestewa, a Hopi Indian woman from Tuba City, Arizona, was killed in action in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Many reports call attention to the fact that she was the first woman soldier killed in the Iraqi conflict, and that she was one of the few Indian women in United States military service.
And for whom was 22-year-old Private First Class Piestewa fighting? The people of Iraq, the people of America, the people of the world who love freedom, and, I say Piestewa was also fighting for the American Indian.
She helped create a good path for Indians, toward a better future. We Indians need to value the opportunities we have here in America, “home of the braves.” We have no other home. We’ve just seen in Iraq what kind of horrible regimes can develop in this world. Would Indians prefer Hussein to George Bush? I think not.
And Lori’s path was made before she was born. It is a well-worn path. Many Indians have walked on it. In her own family, her father is a Vietnam veteran, and her grandfather is a WWII veteran. This young mother of two, a 4-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter, comes from a family who values courage and fortitude, and they’re willing to show it through service in the United States military. Piestewa attended the ROTC program during high school.
She wasn’t the first Indian woman to serve in the U.S. military, either. In fact, Indian women have served the American military since the days of the Revolution. As of 1994 (the most recent statistics available), 1,509 were known to serve in active duty. The thousands that have served from the beginning are just now being rediscovered and recognized. Some were nurses, some were technical assistants, and some were combatants.
There is a new memorial planned in Washington, D.C. to honor all women veterans. The American Indian Women veterans are a special division within this effort, among other ethnic divisions.
Considering the percentage within any ethnic group, American Indians have indeed always made a strong showing in the United States Military. Nearly 200,000 Indians are living veterans today. Depending on what census is referenced, that could be as high as one out of ten Indians. This is by far the largest percentage of any sizeable ethnic groups. (Only people from Samoa come close)
And unlike the BlackCongressional Caucus, which bemoans the “disproportionate” number of African-Americans in the military–as if the government has some racist plot to eliminate them–American Indians are very proud of our service to the country. (In fact, blacks are significantly less likely to serve in combat positions than whites of similar qualifications.)
Yet, when modern American Indian and white leaders continually lament the historical plight of American Indians, denouncing the basis of American government, it might seem surprising that so many Indians find meaning in American military service. As a journalist, I’ve tried to explain this Indian disposition since I first appeared on Front Page Magazine, January 17, 2001. I’ve tried to show the value of the Indian warrior image, and tried to tell Indians that our best future lies in American patriotism, not in protesting the past, or even lamenting the present.
I’ve spoken against all the liberal, Leftist jargon disseminated through Indian media, warning Indians not to associate with anti-American forces. I thought my message was beginning to get through.
But Lori’s done a better job than I. Her message is much louder and clearer.
A Sioux woman in South Dakota heard it, too, even before Lori was reported KIA. Betty Ann Gross held a special Indian ceremony for Lori on March 20, outside Watertown. In the lonely hills of the north prairie, Betty brought together a group of veterans and they all made a sacred circle, leading two horses specially dressed for the ceremony. Eagle feathers on one horse’s mane blessed Lori, and bells on the other horse’s mane called her home to America, to her people.
A week later, snow fell in Tuba City, Arizona. The Hopi said is was Lori’s spirit returned to them, returned to her family, her people, her home, and to her country, America. Indeed, it was a good day to die.
Reprinted from American Enterprise Magazine, April 11, 2003