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Indian veterans get Minnesota Capitol honor

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 American Indian military veterans. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- American Indians volunteer for the U.S. military in higher percentages than any other ethnic group, and now Minnesota officially recognizes that accomplishment.

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, and lawmakers this year approved the honor.

Despite federal officials’ history of going back on their word to Indians, Vizenor said they 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 that military officials studied why Indians are more likely to join the military, and credited their strength, honor, devotion, pride and wisdom.

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

During the Vietnam war, he added, 90 percent of Indian military personnel volunteered while many others were drafted.

Crooks, who noted that an eagle flew over the ceremony, was one of the Vietnam volunteers. He served from 1969 to 1975, but could not explain why Indians volunteer in larger numbers.

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 Indian 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 of military personnel who remain home. 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.