For more than 60 years, Charles Shay (Penobscot) couldn’t talk about his horrific experiences on Omaha Beach during the largest seaborne invasion in history. Now he performs a smudging ceremony at the annual D-Day observances in Normandy, France, in honor of the 175 American Indians who landed that day. The French have dedicated a park overlooking the beach, in his, and their, honor.
Naal Tsoos Saní, the “Old Paper” in the language of the Diné, is the Treaty of 1868 that ended the Navajo peoples’ forced relocation to the Bosque Redondo. Although it is the legal foundation of the modern Navajo Nation, its limits on traditional Diné sovereignty are still intensely debated. The 20-page document, recently displayed in the exhibit Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations at the Museum on the National Mall, is moving to the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Ariz., for the 150th anniversary of its signing.
This multi-talented Pawnee student greatly impressed his teachers at Haskell Institution with his artistic skill. He also impressed his commander in the “Rough Riders” of the Spanish–American War, Lt. Col. Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, with his bravery in combat.
Indian soldiers played an outsized role in the famed 45th “Thunderbird” Division, comprising the National Guards of four southwestern states. They left their imprint on the annals, and the public face, of the U.S. Army of World War II.
The first American Indian to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor in the 20th century, Lt. Col. Ernest Childers (Muscogee Creek) graduated from Chilocco Indian Agricultural school on the eve of World War II. Like many of his schoolmates, he enlisted in the Oklahoma National Guard, soon to be incorporated into the U.S. Army. His single-handed heroism in the bloody Italian Campaign was the start of a distinguished military career.
Natives played major league ball from its earliest days. Although they didn’t face a formal color bar, they still met with stereotyping and countless racial insults.
The vision of an Olympic gold medal kept Billy Mills going through hard times, and there were plenty of hard times both on and off his Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation. His upset triumph at the Tokyo Summer Games in 1964 remains one of the great moments in the history of the Olympics and of modern Indian Country.
The high point for Native athletes came in 1912 at the Stockholm Olympics. Tribal members from the U.S. and Canada — Tewanima, Sockalexis, Keeper, Decoteau — turned in heroic performances, and Jim Thorpe and Duke Kahanamoku became legends.
Just seven months after Thorpe’s Olympic glory, a media scandal over his amateur standing cost him his gold medals and led to the demise of the Carlisle Indian School. Thorpe’s vindication came only 70 years later.
Indigenous people made their first mark in the Olympics, for better or worse, when the third modern Olympiad came to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Mo. Some were exploited in gimmicky “Anthropology Days” to prove European superiority, but others showed well in the formal competition.