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Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces - Patriot Nations Exhibit

Pictured above:

Ely S. Parker, 1860–65

At the surrender at Appomattox in 1865, Ely S. Parker (Seneca, 1828–1895) was the highest ranking American Indian in the Union Army, a lieutenant colonel. As General Ulysses S. Grant’s secretary, he drafted the terms of surrender. General Lee, noticing that Parker was an American Indian, remarked, “I am glad to see one real American here.”Parker later recalled, “I shook his hand and said, ‘We are all Americans.’”

Photo by Mathew Brady. National Archives and Records Administration 529376


Native Americans have served in every major U.S. military encounter from the Revolutionary War to today’s conflicts in the Middle East in higher numbers per capita than any other ethnic group. Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces reveals the remarkable history of Native American veterans through art, photography and essay. The 16-panel exhibition documents 250 years of Native peoples’ contributions in U.S. military history and remains on view from November 12th through November 30, 2019 at the St. Louis County Historical Society located in the St. Louis County Depot, 506 W Michigan St. Duluth, MN 55802.

“Tens of thousands of Native Americans joined the U.S. armed forces during World Wars I and II,” said Herman J. Viola, curator emeritus of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and curator of “Patriot Nations.” “Forty-four thousand Native Americans served in World War II; the entire population of Native Americans was less than 350,000 at the time. They are Purple Heart recipients and Bronze Star medal honorees. Many have been recognized with the Congressional Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military award.”

Patriot Nations also calls attention to the creation of the National Native American Veterans Memorial on the grounds of the museum on the National Mall. Congress has charged the museum with building the memorial to give “all Americans the opportunity to learn of the proud and courageous tradition of service of Native Americans in the Armed Forces of the United States.” Working together with the National Congress of American Indian, Native American veterans, tribal leaders, historians and cultural experts, the museum will complete the memorial by Veteran’s Day 2020.

For more information about the memorial, visit

Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces was produced by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. The exhibition was made possible by the generous support of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians (high res logos available). Please include the National Museum of the American Indian, San Manual Band of Mission Indians, and St. Louis County Historical Society logos.

About the National Museum of the American Indian: The National Museum of the American Indian is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of the Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere—past, present and future—through partnership with Native people and others. Follow the museum via social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To learn more about the museum’s mission, visit


Pictured below:

William Terrill Bradby, dressed traditionally and holding a club,October 1899

William Terrill Bradby (Pamunkey, 1833–?) and other men from Virginia’s Pamunkey and Mattaponi Nations served as river pilots, land guides, and spies for the Union army during the1862 Peninsular Campaign. They piloted steamers, tugboats, gunboats, and torpedo boats during the remainder of the Civil War.

Photo by De Lancey W. Gill. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution [NAA INV 06197600]

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