They first fought against the U.S. government, and later with it - in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and now, in the Iraq war, among other conflicts. They are American Indian soldiers, and to photojournalist Steven Clevenger, they are America's first warriors.
Clevenger, who has covered nine wars as a journalist, honors these men and women with his book, “America's First Warriors: Native Americans and Iraq” (Museum of New Mexico Press). He told the audience that it took him three years to finish the project, as he financed the book himself.
Clevenger discussed his latest book at the Osage Tribal Museum April 17 and gave a presentation on many of the photos that are covered in his book. When asked about showcasing the women in the Armed Forces in a follow-up book, Clevenger mentioned that it was a great idea.
Steven Clevenger began his photography career during the Cambodian war in 1971 at the age of 22. From there, he moved into newspaper photojournalism and television news and continued to cover war for the next 38 years in such places as Northern Ireland, Central America, Iraq and most recently Afghanistan in 2009. Clevenger had long been interested in the psychology of warfare. He questioned why men and women volunteer to put themselves in danger. This question can be expanded to ask why do a people who have been abused by a government, specifically the Native American, defend the very bureaucracy that oppressed them. Knowing little about the warrior culture of the Native American, Clevenger set out to explore the culture and find answers to his question. His quest for information led to the publishing of “America's First Warriors” in 2010.
Even though they were not granted citizenship until 1924, Native Americans have served in all of America’s wars. During World War I, 12,000 served and in World War II, 44,000 (out of a total population of 350,000).
In 2006, Clevenger, Osage, began a three-year project following Native American soldiers into war in Iraq and back home again. He wanted to document the warrior tradition, the war experience, and to reveal the cultural acceptance sometimes withheld from American soldiers.
In 2006, he attended a yellow-ribbon welcoming-home ceremony in Rio Rancho, N.M., for the New Mexico National Guard men and women. Clevenger was embedded with the unit and other Native American military in Iraq in 2007 and, again, in 2009. While there, he shot candid moments of the soldiers at war and conducted interviews in a combat zone. He also captured stirring moments of grief, apprehension, and the day-to-day life of the war-weary Iraqi people. The resulting images and interviews with Pueblo, Apache, Navajo, Osage, and other Native men and women comprise “America's First Warriors.”
“In addition to the photographs taken in Iraq, images of traditional coming home ceremonies such as the War Mothers' Dance, Welcoming Home/Cleansing Ceremony, and other rituals are documented,” Clevenger said. “In attendance were family members and elders including veterans of previous wars, including famed Navajo code talkers of World War II. This book is an eloquent tribute to the Native American warriors, men and women, who have served in all of America’s wars.”
After the discussion, he autographed copies of the book, and light refreshments were served. His book sold out in moments.
Also, two new exhibits at the museum were highlighted, as the new World War I exhibit is displayed in the center room, and a Marine Corps League exhibit displaying four War Bonnets from the Vietnam, Afghanistan, WWII and Iraq era are displayed in the east room’s showcase.