Celebrating Native American Veterans with Oral Histories and Primary Sources

Joe Hosteen Kellwood

Joe Hosteen Kellwood

Recently I was reading the Library’s Folklife Today blog and saw a tribute to Joe Hosteen Kellwood, a member of the Navajo Code Talker platoons. It was a bittersweet reminder that more and more of those who fought during World War II are coming to the end of their lives.

It is also a reminder that, though we have collected the stories of many Native Americans with a focus on those who served as code talkers, there are many, many more who served bravely in all of the branches of the military throughout the history of the United States of America. In the Veterans History Project feature Experiencing War: Willing to Serve: American Indians students can view the stories of Native American Indians who served in the military in conflicts from World War II to Iraq,  including one woman who served as an Army Nurse during World War II.ex-war-title-americanindian

There are more than three hundred entries in the Veterans History Project database featuring veterans who identify themselves being Native American and many of the interviews are available online. (Be sure and check “Digitized Collection: yes” when searching the database.)  Ask students to choose and listen to a recording from Experiencing War: Willing to Serve: American Indians or selected from the Veterans History Project database. The primary source analysis tool may help them analyze the interview. Then pair students and ask them to share their thoughts and questions about each interview. Encourage them to compare the interviews and find what was similar and different about each interviewee’s experience. For younger students you may want to choose a single interview or a portion of an interview and work together to analyze it.

An alternative suggestion is to ask the students to break into groups based on when the interviewees served in the military and discuss similarities and differences and what questions they had after listening to the interview.

Whether students work together in pairs or groups, allow time to share information and identify common similarities and questions as well as what comments and questions spur interest in further research.

Students who are interested in interviewing a veteran to contribute to the Veterans History Project may explore the resources about How to Participate in the Project, including links to the resources needed for the interview,  suggestions for successful interviews and  special resources for teachers and students interested in participating in the project.

Native American contributions are not limited to the military, of course. For more resources exploring their rich ancestry and heritage, visit the Native American Heritage Month portal, a collaboration between several of the United States federal cultural heritage organizations.

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