Throughout history, Native people have been left out of the historical narrative, which means there are many stories that are untold and unheard. Native people have been protecting this land since time immemorial. Native participation within the military are stories that deserve recognition. Native Veterans fight for two countries: the American Country and Indian Country.
For Native veterans, service is special. They have the opportunity to serve in the military that not only honors the USA but honors our tribe. Band member veterans protect our sovereign immunity and our rights to self-govern. They are putting their lives on the line for a country that has actively fought to remove them for hundreds of years. We celebrate their sacrifice as they become role models for our tribe and people. They are a special part of tribal history and American history.
We are always taught our ancestors fought for us to be here. We acknowledge their past, their wisdom, and their sacrifice. Everything we do today will impact future generations as we will become ancestors that future generations look to for wisdom, guidance, and honor. Anishinaabeg have always been protectors and givers; these traits are what make a warrior. These attributes that are woven into our culture are what people aspire to be.
Family members Leana DeJesus, Lana Oswaldson, and Ira Standingcloud are Mille Lacs Band members who have impacted the tribe, its history, and American history by serving in the Army throughout their lives.
Leana DeJesus served in the Army; she started with basic in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, then went on to AIT in Fort Gordon, GA. The first duty station was in Ansbach, Germany, then Fort Knox, KY, and back to Nuremberg, Germany. During this tour in Germany, Leana was deployed to Iraq for Operation Desert Shield/Operation Desert Storm for a year.
Leana enlisted for a couple reasons: "First, I wanted to follow in my father's footsteps. Plus, the Army has a lot of benefits like job stability, giving me responsibility, and providing an opportunity for self-growth. I knew if I stayed in my current environment after high school, I would likely struggle finding my path."
The Army allowed Leana to travel, develop new job skills, and meet and learn about people from varying cultures. Leana would definitely enlist again and is proud to have served our country.
The hardest part of Leana's military career was making the decision to re-enlist or leave. Leana chose against re-enlisting. "I knew when I enlisted that being deployed to a war zone was a possibility and that was what I was being trained for, but at that point, I felt I had fulfilled my military obligations and never wanted to be separated from my daughters again."
Lana Oswaldson comes from "a proud family of ogichidaakweg and ogichidaag." Many members of her family have all proudly served in the military, like her grandpa, dad, uncles, aunties, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, and nephews. Lana described these relatives as "givers who displayed strong values; they wanted to protect Mother Earth, our land, and our cultural values."
Much like her sister Leana, Lana was inspired and influenced by her family. "I wanted to be just like them." They served as her motivation to join, so once she graduated high school, she took the natural step and joined the military. Lana served four years in Army Active Duty and four years Army Ready Reserve. Army Ready Reserve allowed Lana to be a civilian and train near home. She was stationed in various places throughout the U.S., including Fort Jackson, SC, Fort Sam Houston, TX, and Fort Bragg, NC. Lana was also overseas and served a one-year hardship tour in Seoul, Korea.
Reflecting on her time in the Army, Lana feels blessed to have served in the military. "My military experience still plays an important part in my life. I attribute it to me having worked for our Tribe for almost 28 years. I am grateful that it's led to leadership opportunities within our Government and Businesses."
"As a Band member, mother, grandmother, and member of the Midewin family, I highly encourage our young up-and-coming tribal member women and men to enlist, as it supports our cultural way of life and duty to protect our land, and will help develop our future leaders of tomorrow. We need warriors that are committed to protecting the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe's Non-Removable status and sovereign powers so we can continue to protect Mother Earth and our Reservation, and improve the lives of our community members."
An Iraqi War Veteran, Ira Standingcloud served in the Army for a little over six years on Active Duty and was deployed
twice to Iraq. During his time overseas, Ira's role was a 19K-M1 Armor crewman, a tanker.
Ira shared his story of joining the Army and how it has shaped his life and continues to impact his life today. When asked if he would enlist again, without hesitation, Ira said, "Absolutely. It made me the man I am today." Before enlisting, Ira wasn't in a good place. He needed structure, discipline, and a purpose. Ira knew that he had to do something with his life and make a decision soon. With several family members being in the Army, it was easy to take advantage of those connections to see if joining the Army would lead him on a better path.
As expected, bootcamp was tough. "The discipline and structure can be too much for some people. Some people don't want to listen and obey authority. When you do something like this, you have to commit and be ready for that experience." Ira was committed and determined. This is all part of the experience, and he welcomed the challenge.
Ira was deployed to Iraq, and being a tankerman in an active war was no easy feat. In the midst of the war, Ira found himself at a crossroads. He had to make a decision: come home or re-enlist and serve another tour in Iraq. His duty to his brothers, his country, and himself led him to re-enlist and serve an additional 15-month tour in Iraq. After the tour ended, Ira came back home.
The Army provided benefits that Ira was able to take advantage of, like attending college and graduating from Metropolitan State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Business Administration. Because the Army provided a pathway for him, Ira suggests that this is an opportunity for others to take advantage of if they find themselves not knowing what to do, where to go, and when to start.
Ira is proud to be a Native veteran, he shared. "This is still our country." To be a Native veteran means not only fighting for and protecting American citizens, but also representing the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and Native people.
The Army served this family well by providing opportunities with direction, employment, and personal growth, and giving them the encouragement to become the strong leaders and warriors their families, friends, and community know and love. These three have impacted the Mille Lacs Band history and will be honored and remembered for generations. They are each a living testament of what it means to be a true warrior.