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On Veterans Day, Muscogee, Cherokee nation leaders discuss why their citizens are drawn to serve a country that historically mistreated them

muscogee nation military monument.jpeg
Muscogee Nation

In separate events honoring veterans on Thursday, leaders within the Muscogee and Cherokee nations acknowledged that their citizens enlist at much higher rates than other groups, despite the mistreatment of the United States government.

In Okmulgee, the Muscogee Nation held a ceremony to thank their veterans. It included a 21-gun salute.

Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Grover Wind discussed the paradox of Natives going into the armed forces.

"We have risked our lives for the very government that tried to eradicate our lives. People, sometimes even our own people, will ask us — and veterans, you've had this question — 'Why serve in the military when the government has done so much to our people?' But as somebody said this morning, we look at the bigger picture. This is our home," Wind said.

At a veterans monument unveiling in Tahlequah, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. also talked about why Cherokee Nation citizens started taking up arms for the United States just a couple of generations after their forced removal.

"Because this country on her best day stands for freedom and peace, and it is the most powerful symbol, institution, country on the face of this planet for those great values, and the Cherokee people know it and we value it too," Hoskin said.

While Native Americans represent 1.4% of the U.S. population, they account for 1.7% of the military. According to the USO, almost 19% of all Native Americans have served in the armed forces since Sept. 11, 2001, compared to 14% of all other groups.

Both tribes have their own veteran affairs offices that help members with federal benefits and referrals to other services.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.