WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Navy joined the nation today in celebrating American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, which will be observed through Nov. 30.
This month celebrates the cultures, histories and traditions of the indigenous peoples of North America, including parts of Alaska and the island state of Hawaii, and recognizes the significant contributions these first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the United States.
According to the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are 565 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives in the United States, composed of nearly 4.5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, or 1.5 percent of the nation's population.
Today over 15,000 Sailors and 1,280 civilians of Native American and Alaska Native heritage serve in the Navy. According to Dr. Regina Akers, director of the Diversity Project at the Naval History and Heritage Command, the legacy of service of American Indians and Alaska Natives can be traced back to our nation's founding.
"When one thinks of military heroes, American Indians and Alaska Natives may not come to mind," said Akers. "Yet, these members have made significant contributions to the growth and development of the United States and to its national defense since the 18th century. Since 1776, when George Washington began enlisting them for his fledgling Army, Navy and Marines, American Indians have contributed their fighting spirit and warrior ethos to help U.S. forces defend America's national interests."
Native American seamen served on continental and state vessels during the War of Independence, and many Native American tribes served alongside U.S. troops in the War of 1812. During the civil war, as many as 20,000 Native Americans contributed to both Union and Confederate forces as auxiliary troops.
This legacy of service continued during the 20th century. Despite being ineligible for the draft in 1917, as many as 15,000 American Indians enlisted during World War I, and more than 44,000 American Indians, comprising nearly 13 percent of the Native American population at the time, fought in World War II, including 1,910 sailors, several dozen Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) and 874 Marines. Among them were the Navajo Code Talkers, who took part in every assault the U.S. Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945 and transmitted messages by telephone and radio in their native language, a code that the Japanese never broke; and Rear Adm. Joseph J. Clark, the first Native American graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in 1917 and the first Native American to attain the rank of admiral.
American Indians and Alaska Natives continued to serve after World War II. Between 10,000 and 15,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives fought in the Korean War and during the Cold War, including Shirley M. Arviso, a Navajo of Bitter Water Clan and a naval communications officer, who supervised the decryption of classified messages from 1953 to 1963. Later in the decade, 41,500 American Indians, more than 90 percent of them volunteers, fought in the Vietnam War.
The 20th century also saw several American Indian and Alaska Native firsts for women. In 1981, Sara Hinds became the first female Native American midshipman to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. In 1998, Misty Dawn Warren enlisted in the Navy and is believed to be the first American Indian woman to be designated as a naval test parachutist.
Also during the 20th century, three Sailors of American Indian heritage received the Medal of Honor, including Navy Cmdr. Ernest E. Evans, who was awarded the medal posthumously for his actions during the Battle off Samar while commanding USS Johnston (DD-557) on Oct. 25, 1944.
For more information about American Indians and Alaska Natives in the Navy from the Naval History and Heritage Command, visit http://www.history.navy.mil/special%20highlights/NativeAmerican/NativeAmerican-index.htm.
A presentation is also available from the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, http://www.deomi.org/SpecialObservance/.
For more news from Chief of Naval Personnel - Diversity Directorate, visit www.navy.mil/local/cnp-diversity/.