Thank you, Dave [Oliver], for that gracious introduction. Ms. [Lynn] Cutler; Dr. Roger Redhawk Bucholz; Cedar Tree Singers and Dancers; Sitka Tribal Dancers; the famous Code Talkers; ladies and gentlemen --
It is a great pleasure to join you today to recognize the tremendous contributions of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the defense of our nation. Lakota Chief Standing Bear once wrote, "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too."
Today, this day, we celebrate those heroes -- American Indian and Alaska Native men and women who have served in uniform, and who sometimes paid with their lives for the liberties and freedoms we all enjoy.
American Indians have served in all of our nation's wars, and theirs is a path of honor. Their path -- your path -- is a path of dedication even in the face of denied citizenship and forced movement from the lands they called home.
Yours is a path of true warriors, of those who choose to fight for higher purposes and for the glory of a nation. And yours is a path of communal respect for those who served under arms so long, so well, and so humbly.
This long list -- this roster of honor -- of American Indian and Alaska Native contributions in service to America is as deep as it is distinguished. On it are written the deeds of the tribes serving the Colonies during the Revolutionary War; The Delaware and other tribes fighting for the Union in the Civil War, to preserve the "last best hope on earth," and officers like Seneca Brigadier General Ely Parker standing by Grant's side at Appomatox.
In this century this trail of honor has included the bravery of the Code Talkers of World War I and World War II. I had the honor of meeting some of these truly amazing individuals earlier, and some of these heroes are here with us today. Without question you saved thousands of American lives and helped speed the end of World War II. Your voice was our victory in defeating tyranny.
This path of heroism extends along our northern frontier where Alaska Natives of the Eskimo Scouts stood vigilant in our defense. And if you go to Oklahoma, you'll find an Air Force base named for Brigadier General Clarence Tinker, a member of the Osage tribe who was the first American general to give his life in World War II.
This path of American Indian and Alaska Native soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines is wound through the wind-swept hills of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam -- thanks to people like Dr. Bucholz -- and the deserts of the Middle East.
Today that path of honor runs through the ranks of our veterans and the thousands of dedicated men and women who are now serving around the world, carrying on a noble warrior tradition.
We want to walk this path with you. That is why just last month we unveiled the DoD American Indian and Alaska Native Policy. That is why we spent the last year and a half working with tribal representatives and organizations to develop a policy that reflects the experience and insights of Native Americans. It underscores our commitment to work and cooperate with tribal governments to comply with President Clinton's Memorandum on government, particularly with respect to environmental and cultural resource protection issues. So our new policy is shaping our future together, and in a sense is a monument to the contributions of American Indians and Native Alaskans.
Sadly, there are not many monuments to Indians or Alaska Natives, but this summer I saw a very impressive one, still being built. It is in my home state of South Dakota, not far from Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills held sacred by the Lakota. It is an enormous sculpture of Crazy Horse on a stallion, and when finished it will stand taller than the Washington Monument, taller than the Great Pyramid at Giza. But it is more than just a sculpture. The sculptor who started it -- and whose family continues to literally carve out a mountain -- was Korczak Ziolkowski, an immigrant who was a veteran of the Normandy beaches.
When I was there, I met with Mrs. Ziolkowski, and she spoke to me about how Korczak wanted to build a monument to freedom -- to find the truest expression of American freedom he could. And that expression of freedom is an American Indian leader on horseback. That mountain -- that monument -- and this celebration today, remind us that recognition of Indian and Native Alaskan veterans is long overdue. As I was meeting with them a while ago, I realized that when they returned from World War II, the Code Talkers went quietly back to their homes. They shunned the spotlight they deserved, and only now get full credit for their proud service. Like so many for so long, they fought two battles -- one against a foreign enemy and another against prejudice at home. We can learn a great deal from their humility and self-sufficiency. We must also remember the heroes of the past, and support those who serve today.
World War II veteran Raymond Nahai had this to say: "Many have asked why we fight the white man's war. "Our answer is that we are proud to be Americans, and we are proud to be American Indians. The American Indian always stands ready when his country needs him." Truer words were never spoken -- the American Indian and Native Alaskan have always stood ready and stood strong for America. And I am proud to stand here today to salute you and to congratulate you on this celebration of service and sacrifice.