Jim Northrup, Anishnaabe Vietnam Vet

“It is said that ribbon shirts were originally a prerogative for combat veterans. They appeared at the first intertribal pow-wows in the 1910’s. The scalps and horsehair tufts on grandfathers’ ceremonial outfits were replaced by colorful ribbons like the ‘fruit salad’ awarded to the modern warrior.  A man wearing a ribbon shirt was shown respect. Quoted and paraphrased from Russell L. Barsh in his 2001 essay, War and the Reconfiguring of American Indian Society.  Today’s entry is mostly excerpted from Russell L. Barsh.

“Across the nation, traditional religious dancing had been forbidden on Indian reservations since the 1870s.  Only gradually were Tribes allowed to stage strictly social dances.  Returning Indian veterans were honored with special flag songs.   Flags and veterans became synonymous with treaty rights, distinctive Indianness and the legitimacy of demanding the respect of whites.

“Each twentieth-century American war has been followed by a major national Indian-rights movement: for citizenship in the 1920s, for economic development in the 1950s, and for sovereignty in the 1970s. The current national policy of ‘self-determination ‘ was only adopted in 1975 following a wave of Vietnam-era Indian militancy.   

 ‘Survived the war,’ Jim Northrup wrote after his 1966 combat tour as a Marine in Vietnam, ‘but was having trouble surviving the peace.’  Soldiers became habituated to obedience and collective action.   Dependency on external leadership has been identifed as a clinical issue in studies of Vietnam veterans as well.   Vietnam veterans also reportedly tend to be overprotective, indifferent, or violent fathers.

“The powerlessness and marginality of reservation life probably intensifed men’s feelings that going to war would increase, rather than reduce their personal significance.  Having been told from childhood that they were once great warriors and that warriors are mighty, proud, and do not cry, what do real warriors do when they need to express their terror, sadness and anger?  

 ‘ It’s a good idea to honor veterans, ‘ Anishinabe Vietnam veteran Jim Northrup observed, ‘but a better idea is to quit making them.’“—Russell L. Barsh


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