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Navy celebrates American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage contributions

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (Nov. 29, 2017) Pastor William M. Reid, a member of the Meherrin Indian tribe of North Carolina, presents handmade Native American wardrobe items during Naval Medical Center Portsmouth’s (NMCP) Native American Heritage Month celebration. NMCP’s Diversity Committee hosts the annual Native American Heritage Month celebration to honor the history and culture of Native Americans nationwide.

WASHINGTON (NNS) — The Navy honors National American Indian Heritage Month in November celebrating achievements of American Indians and Alaska Natives and recognizing the central role they have played in the nation’s history. The theme for the month this year is “Sovereignty, Trust and Resilience.”

American Indians and Alaska Natives serve in all branches of the military, and their contributions have been critical to the nation’s defense. As of June 2018, they comprise 2.3 percent (8,689) of the Navy’s total force, 1 percent (600) of the officer ranks and 2.8 percent (1,206) of enlisted Sailors. More than 22,000 American Indians or Alaska Natives serve in the U.S. military.

American Indians and Alaska Natives have a legacy of honorable service that permeates naval history through every major armed conflict for more than 200 years. The Navy takes pride in highlighting Native Americans who blazed trails and changed the course of history forever.

In 1924, voting rights were extended to all American Indians after the Snyder Act was passed. In World War II, 44,000 fought with distinction, including 1,910 in the Navy. Two Oklahoma Cherokees distinguished themselves in the Navy. Rear Adm. Joseph J. “Jocko” Clark commanded aircraft carriers and later a task force. Cmdr. Ernest E. Evans was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle off Samar, Philippines.

Approximately 15,000 American Indians fought in the Korean War and more than 42,000 during Vietnam. In 1966, South Carolina Cherokee Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class James E. Williams, while serving at South Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, killed an unknown number of enemy forces while destroying 65 vessels and disrupting an enemy logistic operation. Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the three-hour battle against Viet Cong guerrillas with the two riverine patrol boats he commanded.

The Navy had the highest proportion of American Indians in uniform as of March 2012. A recent example is Master Chief James d. Fairbanks, a Chippewa from Northern Minnesota. He served in the Marine Corps and in the Navy as a Seabee. In 2005, Fairbanks was selected as the 13th force master chief of the Seabees.

U.S. Navy ships named in honor of American Indians include USNS Red Cloud (T-AKR-313), USNS Sacagawea (T-AKE-2), USNS Catawba (T-ATF-168), USNS Navajo (T-ATF-169), USNS Sioux (T-ATF-171), USNS Apache (T-ATF-172), USS Evans (DE 1023), USS Cherokee IV (AT 66), Yaquima, Wovoka, Winamac, Waukegan, Keywadin II (ATA-213), Tioga II (Launch) and Wabash IV (AOR-5).

The Navy’s leadership remains strongly committed to diversity and emphasizes that the Navy remains highly capable and mission ready by leveraging the strengths of a diverse force.

Navy leadership encourages the Navy community to recognize and express appreciation for the past and present contributions of American Indian and Alaska Native Sailors, veterans, civilians and family members. As a tribute, the Navy units and agencies are welcome to conduct commemorative activities and events.

The observance first began with the establishment of American Indian Day in May 1916 by the governor of New York. Decades later, it gained official national recognition when President George H. W. Bush approved a joint Congressional resolution designating November 1990 as National American Indian Heritage Month.

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