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WASHINGTON Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians, made the following statement in honor of Memorial Day.
NCAI President Jefferson Keel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
"This Memorial Day, we again pay our respect to those members of the United States military, both Native and non-Native, that have passed on and who served with great honor to protect our lands and our nations. Service is one of the most honorable callings and for over a century Native men and women have offered their lives to ensure brighter days for future generations,"
said Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians and a veteran with over 20 years of active duty service in the United States Army.
"Today, Native Americans continue to serve in distant lands, however upon returning home they face even greater challenges. Too often services to which Native veterans are entitled fall short of meeting their needs and are less adequate than those provided to their non-Native counterparts. It is our duty to protect and serve those who have served us with such honor. On this Memorial Day, we call on the United States and tribal nations to honor those veterans who have passed on, by supporting those veterans who have returned."
The National Congress of American Indians is currently working to secure resources to enable tribal communities:
to establish Veteran Treatment Courts, an important tool in supporting veterans;
to increase the number of tribal Veteran Service Officers;
to increase funding for Veterans Affairs tribal home loan programs and the homeless veteran initiative; and
to collaborate with the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to ensure effective consultation with tribal nations.
Hundreds of thousands of tribal members have served in the US military in the last century, including the recent engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of March 2012 the Pentagon estimates that since 2001, 64 American Indians and Alaskan Natives have died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq (42 in Operation Iraqi Freedom; 22 in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan).
The Pentagon also reported in March that 22,248 American Indian/Alaska Natives currently serve in the military on active duty. Native personnel serve across the Armed Forces at the following levels; Army: 4,404; Navy: 13,511; Marine Corps: 2,128; and Air Force: 2,205.
The 2010 US Census estimates that there are currently 156,515 American Indian and Alaska Native veterans. (Source: 2010 American Community Survey for the American Indian and Alaska Native alone population)
According to Department of Veteran Affairs, in 2006 more than 36,000 female veterans are American Indians/Alaska Natives, representing almost 10 percent of all American Indians/Alaska Natives veterans, and nearly twice the national average (6 percent of women in the overall population are veterans).
President Keel, serving his second term as President of NCAI, is a retired US Army officer with over 20 years active duty service. He also serves as the Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation.
During his military service, he served two extended tours of combat duty as an Infantryman in Vietnam, and received numerous awards and decorations for heroism, including two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star with "V" for valor, and the Army Commendation Medal with valor. He is a former Airborne Ranger, infantry platoon sergeant and platoon leader, and served as an instructor in the elite US Army Rangers. In June 2011, Jefferson Keel was one of three former service members inducted into the Military Memorial Museum Hall of Honor.
posted May 26, 2012 8:00 am edt
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