“Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.”  These words are ingrained in us. We sing them proudly at ballgames, and BBQ’s, firework displays and ceremonies honoring the many occasions of celebration and remembrance that make us all American.

Most likely choruses of our national anthem will be performed many times over this Memorial Day weekend in honor of our veterans. It’s America’s way of paying tribute for their service.

This weekend always gives me pause. What is sacrifice, what is service, what does it mean to be an American veteran, what does it mean to be American?

I pose these questions because I understand and represent this country the only way I can…as an American Indian. My history and heritage is beautiful and complex. I am a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, and call Colorado home. I am also a veteran – I served proudly in the Air Force during Korean War.

So yes, I am American and I am Indian and I am a vet. I believe I was compelled to serve to honor the warrior tradition which is inherent to most Native American societies – the pillars of strength, honor, pride, devotion, and wisdom.

Yes, I am American and I am Indian and I am a vet. I believe I was compelled to serve to honor the warrior tradition which is inherent to most Native American societies – the pillars of strength, honor, pride, devotion, and wisdom.

What many do not know is that American Indians serve in greater numbers per capita than any other ethnic group in our great country. According to the Department of Defense, in 2011, there were more than 137,000 American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans living in the United States. American Indians have participated with distinction in United States military for more than 200 years; their courage, determination, and fighting spirit recognized by American military leaders as early as the 18th century.

Here’s what I know. I love America, it is my home and the journey to freedom of the Native people is staked in controversy and conflict, bravery and defeat. Native Americans have overlooked decades of persecution and broken promises to serve as courageous servicemen and women.

From the beginning of this great nation American Indians have been joined with their American brothers and sisters in battle, and in peace. Each tribal leader connected indefinitely to our great American Military leaders as witnesses of the battles we are born from. I protect the foundation of the Constitution of the United States, and I am connected to the land of my Native ancestors.

Ben Nighthorse Campbell represented Colorado in the United States Senate from 1993 until 2005.

Campbell also served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987 to 1993.

He was stationed in Korea during the Korean War as an air policeman; he left the Air Force in 1953 with the rank of Airman Second Class, as well as the Korean Service Medal and the Air Medal.

Author's note: In December 2013, the United States Congress authorized the establishment of the National Native American Veterans’ Memorial on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). The legislation charges NMAI with creating a memorial that would 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 Indians and other American Indian groups, the museum has begun preliminary plans to construct this memorial in the next five years and has formed an Advisory Committee that is chaired by the Honorable Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne) and Chickasaw Nation Lieutenant Governor Jefferson Keel.