Veterans' Voices: Untold Stories is a co-production of MIGIZI, which provides a strong circle of support for Native American youth, and Ampers, which offers diverse radio for Minnesota Communities, with support from the Minnesota Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.
Last winter, a group of early high schoolers enrolled in our First Person Productions Internship, a paid media internship aimed at empowering young people to be the next generation of Native storytellers.
American Indians and Alaska Natives serve in the Armed Forces at five times the national average, but often the stories of our relatives go untold. That's why over the past year, our First Person Productions interns teamed up with Ampers radio to interview five Native veterans, uplifting their stories through an audio series exploring and honoring the lives and voices of our veterans.
In honor of Veterans' Day, please enjoy the audio series below.
Interviewees include Frederick Deleon (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Lac Courte Oreilles); Alexandria Hacker (Sicangu Lakota, Rosebud Sioux Tribe); Graciela Uribe (Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota); Jim Thunderhawk (Oglala Lakota Nation); and Bill Means (Oglala Lakota Nation).
Native Veterans & Ignorance from Peers
Being an Indigenous person in the military can often be a lonely and difficult experience. We heard from multiple veterans about the ignorance they faced from many of their peers; we also heard how they turned the treatment they received into a learning opportunity, taking it upon themselves to educate fellow soldiers.
"I was the first Indigenous person that these people have met, and then being a woman as well. So I felt that was like empowering. You know, here's my chance to educate people. We are still alive. We are still flourishing, we still have our culture and our language and our ceremonies. So I really liked the opportunity to educate everyone." — Alexandria Hacker (Rosebud Sioux Tribe).
Produced by MIGIZI media interns, Kaylee (Red Lake Ojibwe) & Guillermo.
Reasons for Enlisting
Indigenous people have always had a proud tradition of protecting our people and the land. Many of the veterans we talked to spoke about the history of serving our community.
"I come from a proud nation of warriors. They call us Akicita, Tokala, or Chantet'inza, those are old Lakota warrior society. So my great great grandpa was a scout. And he was a friend, a right hand man of Sitting Bull. . . We kind of look at this obligation, part of our Native ways to be in the military." — Jim Thunderhawk
Produced by MIGIZI media interns, Douglas (White Earth Ojibwe), Curtis (Leech Lake), and Anthony (Bois Forte).
"I was able to pay off my student loans that way. So that's kind of what prompted me first joining but what kept me in was that I had created a family as well, so I just kind of stuck with it and retired." — Graciela Uribe
Native Veterans & Mental Health
In this podcast series we will discuss Native veterans and their mental health. As a warning, in this episode we will talk about sensitive topics such as PTSD, depression, and suicide. We will also discuss therapy and other ways to support veterans.
"We're gonna take you to a big drum ceremony. And then we're gonna we're gonna put your warrior spirit to rest so that way you can come back home."
— Frederick Deleon
Produced by MIGIZI media intern, Franceska (Standing Rock Lakota).
"And as we reestablish who we are, you become human again, because they make you a non-human in war — you have to be in order to survive. And so I think that idea of seeking treatment, seeking some form of ceremonial help, will help everybody and we got to encourage people to do that, not be against them." — Bill Means
Staying Culturally Connected
Indigenous veterans benefit from staying culturally connected while serving in the armed forces. In this episode, veterans discuss how cultural connections offer protection during moments of tribulation during their service.
"Older veterans or medicine men would bless that eagle feather in a sweat lodge ceremony or maybe sun dance and you take that as a protection for yourself. And that way when you're over there, you don't get injured or killed or anything. You'll come back alive. So that's what usually we use and most of us take that with us, and we still carry that feather with us." — Jim Thunderhawk
Produced by MIGIZI media interns, Gwen (Leech Lake Ojibwe) & Aleahana (Standing Rock Lakota).
The interns found particular value in conducting these interviews as Native youth. We were able to connect across generations; discuss the immense value we find in ceremony; and talk about what it's like to live in "survival mode" as Indigenous people.
"It's a lot more meaningful interviewing Native veterans, because that's our people out there fighting for our land, our country and our people." — Douglas (White Earth Ojibwe).
Produced by MIGIZI media interns, Kija (Red Lake Nation, Cherokee Nation) Franceska (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe), Douglas (White Earth Ojibwe), and Curtis (Leech Lake Ojibwe).
"I think we can support our veterans by talking with them at powwows when we see them, doing interviews like this, because it supports them and shows them the benefits and positive impacts of what they've done"
As we conclude this special audio series, Veterans' Voices: Untold Stories, we extend our deepest gratitude to MIGIZI interns and Ampers for their unwavering commitment to amplifying Native voices and narratives. The collaboration between First Person Productions interns and Ampers radio has not only brought to light the often-overlooked experiences of Native veterans but has also empowered a new generation of storytellers. The stories shared by Frederick Deleon, Alexandria Hacker, Graciela Uribe, Jim Thunderhawk, and Bill Means offer a profound glimpse into the challenges, pride, and resilience of Indigenous individuals in the armed forces. As we commemorate Veterans' Day, let us carry these narratives forward, fostering understanding, appreciation, and support for the Native veterans who have served our people and land with honor.