America’s First Warriors.
Native Americans and Iraq.
Photographs and Text by Steven Clevenger.
Museum Of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 2010. 128 pp., 107 color illustrations, 11x10".
“The definition of a warrior for Native Americans
has basically remained the same since pre-
Columbian times. A warrior is the protector of
his people. Strength, honor, pride, devotion,
wisdom, and spiritual toughness are required
to fulfill that duty. Coincidentally, the Native
American warrior code is similar to the code of
the U.S. Army.”
—Steven Clevenger, from the Introduction
Even though they were not granted citizenship
until 1924, Native Americans have served in all
of America’s wars. During World War I, 12,000
served and in World War II, 44,000 (out of a total
population of 350,000). In 2006, Clevenger,
himself of Osage descent, began a three-year
project following Native American soldiers into war in Iraq and back home again. He wanted to document
the warrior tradition, the war experience, and to reveal the cultural acceptance sometimes withheld from
American soldiers. In 2006 he attended a yellow-ribbon welcoming-home ceremony in Rio Rancho, New
Mexico for the New Mexico National Guard men and women. Clevenger was embedded with these and
other Native American military in Iraq in 2007 and, again, in 2009. While there, he shot candid moments
of the soldiers at war and conducted interviews in a combat zone. He also captured stirring moments of
grief, apprehension, and the day-to-day life of the war weary Iraqi people.
The resulting images and interviews with Pueblo, Apache, Navajo, Osage, and other Native men
and women comprise America’s First Warriors. In addition to the photographs taken in Iraq, images of
traditional coming home ceremonies such as the War Mothers’ Dance, Welcoming Home/Cleansing Ceremony,
and other rituals are documented. In attendance were family members and elders including veterans
of previous wars, including famed Navajo code talkers of World War II.
As the Iraq war continues, this book is an eloquent tribute to the Native American warriors, men
and women, who have served in all of America’s wars.
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