The Part-Time Blog of a Full-Time Indian: Analyzing the 'warrior spirit'

November 15, 2010

The Part-Time Blog of a Full-Time Indian: Analyzing the 'warrior spirit'
Gyasi logoPublished widely in Native American newspapers and websites, Gyasi Ross has kindly volunteered to share his blogs here on

It seems like the vast majority of my male relatives went into one branch of the military or another.

Sounds cool, right? Some folks might call that a "legacy."

I don't. I call it "sucks for Gyasi."

See, the fact that seemingly every male relative in my family was an incredible military man made my life difficult for several reasons. The first reason is that I simply couldn't hunt with any of these dudes! I always fancied myself as a pretty good shot with a rifle. But when your cousin is G.I Joe (or Destro!), you don't have a Twinkie's chance at a fat farm of taking down the prize elk! So, like a lonely man going to some XXX movies by himself, I typically had to go hunting all by my lonesome because of the fear of ridicule from my "loved ones."

So embarrassing. I usually had to wear a trench coat whenever I'd go hunt by myself.

The second reason that my family's long history of service sucked for me is because of the effect it had on my grandma. It was bad. My grandmother tended to think I was a failure simply because I never joined the military. Simply put, she learned to associate folks who looked like a lot of my cousins - square-jaw, shoes shined and close-cropped haircuts - with, well, having a job.

And having a job was often a rarity in my family. So the ones who had jobs were always her favorites. And then there was me.

Just like my crew-cut cousins, my grandma also developed a stereotype about ruffians who looked like me. You know, the shaggy-hair-ripped-Pro Wings-(that looked a lot like Jordans)-and-baggy-jeans-type. We were called "broke."

I tried to explain that my seemingly never-ending journey through school would "someday" put me into a position where I would be able to travel. I thought that I pled my case well. My grandmother replied:

"Someday, huh? You can travel in the Army now."

I said, "Well school is going to allow me to always have a job -- grandma. I'll never, ever have to worry about job security."

She said: "Have you ever heard of GIs getting laid off?"

Touche granny. Like Baxter in the Anchorman, she really knew how to cut to the core of me. Like a wrinkled little Buddha.

But I digress.

But truly, her criticisms did and still do sting.

Her criticisms stung because I know a lot of what she says is true. I know, for example, that Skins have displayed an exemplary pattern of service within the United States military. In fact, Skins have gone above and beyond the call of duty and served at a hugely disproportionate rate as compared to other ethnic groups.

They were unquestionably 'warriors'

Skins have served in the military for such a long period of time with such zeal and competence that I think one could reasonably concur that all Skins have a legacy or expectation of service in the military.

The history of service is unquestionable. Maybe my grandmother was right and I am eschewing my obligation. Hmmm...

Further, there's probably a lot to the idea that some Skins join the military because we have that "warrior spirit." Makes sense to me. I also don't doubt the validity of the idea that many Skins join the military because of our close relationship to this continent, this land; that many of us feel obligated to protect our homelands. That makes sense as well.

Cool. I can appreciate those reasons.

Let me tell you what I see though. I marvel at our previous generations where our ancestors took the idea of service very seriously. It seems to me -- from what I've read and heard -- that "service" was a true matter of manhood, pride and dignity for Skins of all tribes and nations.

For example, in some wars, our ancestors were not even citizens of the United States yet they volunteered from all over Indian country. They fought valiantly and ferociously for the United States despite the horrible history that this nation has with its indigenous people.

For the life of me I cannot understand why someone would fight for a nation that did not want you. But they did -- bravely, heroically.

It's safe to say that they had principles and moral fiber that I could not even begin to understand. They were unquestionably "warriors."

And even now there's still a lot of Skins in military service; thousands carrying on that tradition set by our valiant ancestors. I know for a fact there's still a whole bunch of Skins in the military -- many of them are the cousins that I refuse to hunt with! Just like our ancestors, they still take the job of being in the military very seriously and are incredible at their jobs.

'Warrior spirit' or 'lack of economics and opportunity'

Still, I wonder if the Skin representation in the military is "across the board" like it was at one time. I wonder if all nations -- from all over Indian Country -- still have that "warrior spirit?" Whether -- as with our ancestors -- it is still a matter manhood, pride and dignity for Skins of all tribes and nations?

What I mean is many of my friends and relations who are veterans -- these modern day warriors -- come from places where there are very few economic and professional opportunities. Yes, these guys are hard-working, industrious and diligent. Still, the truth is that their talents would not have been fully developed if they spent their "warrior years" on economically depressed reservations. For many of them, in their search for opportunity, they decided to join the military as a "way out." They honestly had to leave. And it's a win-win for them because, in the military, they 1) get a chance to be the warriors that they were born to be, and 2) they have a regular paycheck.

Makes perfect sense to me.

I do not, however, know many active-duty (or recently discharged) Skins that come from tribes where there is substantial economic development or wealth as a tribe. I'm sure there are some; I just don't know of many. Further, although I am positive there are some examples, I don't know of a whole lot of Skins who receive a healthy per capita payment who volunteered to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. Not that I blame them. Heck, I don't even get a per capita and I didn't volunteer. So I feel you bro!

Still, it makes me rethink the notion that all Skins have the "warrior spirit" equally. It seems like if that was the case, Skins from the wealthy tribes would be compelled to join the military just like Skins from a lot of the large land-based (i.e. "poor") tribes.

So I wonder: does "warrior spirit" mean "lack of economics and opportunity" nowadays? If all Skins had the same warrior spirit would all tribes be represented equally in the military?

Gyasi "Fancy Skin" Ross is a member of the Amskapipikuni (Blackfeet Nation) and his family also comes from the Suquamish Tribe. His Pikuni (Blackfoot) name is "Oonikoomsika." He is co-founder of Native Speaks LLC, a progressive company owned by young Native professionals which provides consultation and instruction for professionals and companies. E-mail him at

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