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A nod to Native vets

“The Warrior Tradition” will premiere on Monday, Nov. 11, on PBS.

Larry Hott’s forté is telling powerful stories through film.

It’s what he’s done for decades.

His latest documentary, “The Warrior Tradition,” continues his work within the Native community.

“I did a film on the Lakota language revitalization,” he says. “When I was asked if I was interested in ‘The Warrior Tradition,’ there was already funding for it. It’s a convergence of my interest of 40 years.”

The documentary will air on Veterans Day, Monday, Nov. 11, at 8 p.m. on New Mexico PBS. It is also airing in conjunction with Native American Heritage Month, which is celebrated in November.

The documentary explores the complicated ways the culture and traditions of Native Americans have affected their participation in the U.S. military. It tells the stories of Native American warriors from their own points of view – stories of service and pain, of courage and fear.

The one-hour documentary is co-produced by WNED-TV Buffalo Toronto and Florentine Films/Hott Productions Inc..

“This project went quickly,” Hott says. “It was a full year, and my films usually average five to eight years. The reason it went quickly is that all of the groundwork was done. We started to develop the film, and we learned it wasn’t about heroism.”

Hott wanted to find out why Native Americans were different in the military and why they served in high numbers.

“That became my quest,” he says. “We weren’t just doing one battle or one war. We lucked out that people have already been writing about these journeys and stories. A lot of the people that are in the books are still alive.”

Hott says the documentary dispels the old duality of the noble savage/helpless victim that has dominated the cultural portrait of Native Americans for more than a century.

Even the numbers tell a story.

According to the documentary, during World War I, not all Native Americans were even citizens of the United States, and couldn’t be drafted, yet more than 12,000 Indian men volunteered.

And in Vietnam, an unpopular war, 90 percent of the 42,000 Native people who served were volunteers.

“That’s the irony,” said Patty Loew, member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, a professor of journalism at Northwestern University and a consultant for “The Warrior Tradition.” “Here’s a government that has, at various times, tried to exterminate or assimilate Native Americans, destroy their culture, take their land, and yet here are Native Americans serving in the highest percentages of any race or ethnicity relative to their numbers in the U.S. military.”

More than a dozen Native American veterans appear in the film, having served in Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Army National Guard. Hott says each has a story about serving and how the warrior tradition played a role in their lives.

Among those who share their stories are veterans of wars and conflicts ranging from World War II to ongoing deployments in the Middle East.

They are members of tribes from all over the United States, including the Comanche and Apache tribes of Oklahoma, the Mississippi Choctaw, Navajo Nation, and the Menominee.

“Of course the only required story is of the Code Talkers,” Hott says. “You just can’t do a film without talking about them. We wanted to make sure that a number of Native Americans were highlighted as well. Having this film on national broadcast speaks to the importance of this story.”

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