CASPER, Wyoming (AP) – Decades before becoming an Eastern Shoshone leader, John St. Clair was a fighting soldier in Vietnam.
The draft found St. Clair in 1966, and while he survived the war, he returned with post-traumatic stress disorder, although he did not realize it until many years later. late.
When St. Clair and other soldiers returned to the Wind River Reservation, many did not identify as veterans because of the stigma. They encountered protests and were avoided. Many people thought that every soldier who fought in Vietnam agreed with the government.
“It wasn’t true at all. I was drafted, but we had a choice after we were drafted, ”he said. “Are we going to Canada or are we doing what we were drafted for?” Most of us, especially the native people, went ahead and went to the military.
Like many Native soldiers, St. Clair’s service was largely unrecognized at the time. And all the while, despite several generations of veterans of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho, Wyoming did not have a memorial to honor their services.
Thursday that finally changed.
The Path of Honor, a memorial dedicated to Native American veterans, opened Thursday at the Frank B. Wise Business Center in Fort Washakie, where stones along a winding red path symbolize courage and commitment to lead a useful life.
Lyle Wadda of American Legion Post 81 led the project which began in 2008 after the Wind River Development Fund and Post 81 teamed up to create the business center. Yet even after the building and memorial was completed, Wadda found himself in disbelief when he was finally dedicated to the public in a ceremony attended by Governor Mark Gordon, Representative Andi Clifford, County of D-Fremont and other dignitaries.
Wadda’s goal was to create a space where everyone is welcome.
“We accept anyone for this position,” Wadda said at the dedication ceremony. “You don’t have to be Native American or part of another tribe. Business is open to everyone.
St. Clair, President of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council, recognized the dedication and bravery of Native Americans who served as volunteers during the Spanish American War and World War I, before Native Americans were granted US citizenship.
“Major General Lee Gilstrap, who trained 2,000 natives for World War I, said – and I quote, these are not my own words -” the Indian is the best soldier in the army, “” St. Clair said.
On the Wind River Reservation alone, nearly 900 tribal members served in conflicts ranging from World War I to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While Wyoming’s first Native American Memorial is now open, there is still work to be done, said Jordan Dresser, chairman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council. He praised the veterans who raised awareness among indigenous communities about trauma and mental health.
“It has been very welcoming and promising that a lot of the veterans here in here (mental health awareness),” Dresser said. “It shows it’s something to be talked about publicly, and there’s no shame in it. There is no shame in admitting that you need help.
PTSD is a difficult topic for Felicia Antelope, commander of the American Legion Post 96 and member of the Northern Arapaho tribe, who spoke at Thursday’s dedication.
After being deployed to Iraq in 2004 – a mission she openly opposed with her sergeant – she was injured and traumatized mentally and physically. Since then, she has learned to live with PTSD and to speak openly about its difficulties.
However, serving in the military has always been a dream for Antelope. His father served, along with most of his uncles. In a way, she felt almost destined for service.
“My parents told me off when I was 18, so I ended up going to college first,” Antelope said. “After college, I decided to volunteer. My parents really didn’t say anything at that point because I had my own life and my own apartment, but they still tried to talk me out of it… but they were really happy.
She graduated at the top of her class, earned the ranks of sergeant, and placed on the commanders list with perfect marks throughout her training.
Antelope entered the military out of a sense of duty, but she did so for future generations as well.
“I think it has a lot to do with the Arapaho,” she said. “Because we always think about the future. How can we improve this place for the next generation? “