Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces

November 10, 2022 – November 30, 2023

Grace Thorpe (Sac and Fox, 1921–2008) at work in General MacArthur’s headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, in December 1945. Grace Thorpe collection (NMAI.AC.085), Negative Box 8, Item 19, National Museum of the American Indian

National Museum of the American Indian
4th St. & Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC

Second Floor, Sealaska Gallery Floor Plan

Why We Serve honors the generations of Native Americans who have served in the armed forces of the United States—often in extraordinary numbers—since the American Revolution. For some, the Indigenous commitment to the U.S. military doesn’t make sense. Why would Indians serve a country that overran their homelands, suppressed their cultures, and confined them to reservations? Native people have served for the same reasons as anyone else: to demonstrate patriotism or pursue employment, education, or adventure. Many were drafted. Yet tribal warrior traditions, treaty commitments with the United States, and responsibility for defending Native homelands have also inspired the enduring legacy of Indigenous military service.