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Native American news roundup, June 2-8, 2024

D-Day veteran and Penobscot elder from Maine, Charles Norman Shay, burns sage in prayer at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on June 5, 2020.
D-Day veteran and Penobscot elder from Maine, Charles Norman Shay, burns sage in prayer at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on June 5, 2020.

Native American veterans honored at D-Day commemorations in Normandy

World leaders and veterans, including service members from several Native American tribes, gathered in France to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the allied landing on the beaches of Normandy that changed the course of World War II.

Charles Norman Shay, a citizen of the federally recognized Penobscot Nation in Maine, was in the first wave that landed on Omaha Beach. A combat medic assigned to the First Infantry Division, Shay was awarded the Silver Star and the French Legion of Honor for his efforts to save wounded soldiers from the rising waters of the English Channel.

Delegations from several Native American tribes were also in Normandy to pay tribute to Shay and to the tens of thousands of Native Americans who served in World War II, including an unknown number of Native Americans who landed at Normandy in 1944.

Shay, who turns 100 later this week, is the last surviving Native American soldier to have fought on D-Day.

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An exhibit at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe on May 17, 2024, recounts the life and times of voting rights pioneer Miguel Trujillo of Isleta Pueblo, who in 1948 successfully challenged New Mexico’s ban on voting by Native Americans.
An exhibit at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe on May 17, 2024, recounts the life and times of voting rights pioneer Miguel Trujillo of Isleta Pueblo, who in 1948 successfully challenged New Mexico’s ban on voting by Native Americans.

Ho-Chunk congresswoman: States ‘deprive’ Native Americans of right to vote

June 2 marked 100 years since President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act, also known as the Snyder Act, granting full U.S. citizenship to all Native Americans born in the United States.

Native American lawmakers marked the occasion with a series of editorials.

In a guest essay for Native News Online, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, argues that Native Americans have always been citizens.

“My people were here long before the Mayflower and the Pilgrims, and before the cow was introduced to North America. We have always been citizens of this continent. Our citizenship runs deep, and in spite of every Indian war, assimilation policy, and outright assault on our land, animals, and ways of life by newcomers, we have persevered,” she wrote.

Representative Sharice Davids, a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin, reminded readers of Indian Country Today that while the 1924 law may have given Native Americans official citizenship, some states still “deprive” them of rights guaranteed to citizens.

“Before this, my ancestors were treated as foreigners in their own land without a voice in the country's most important systems,” Davids wrote. “While the act was a monumental leap in tribal sovereignty, it didn't prevent states from enacting laws that deprived Native communities of their right to vote.”

Davids, Senator Ben Ray Lujan and Representative Tom Cole (Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma) introduced the Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021 (NAVRA), to improve Native Americans’ access to voter registration, polling places and drop boxes.

Indigenous leaders and allies gather outside the White House to urge President Joe Biden to grant clemency to imprisoned activist Leonard Peltier on Sept. 12, 2023, in Washington.
Indigenous leaders and allies gather outside the White House to urge President Joe Biden to grant clemency to imprisoned activist Leonard Peltier on Sept. 12, 2023, in Washington.

Leonard Peltier to appeal again for his release

American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier and his supporters will plead his case next week before a parole board for what may be the last time.

Peltier, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota, was convicted in 1977 of killing two FBI agents during a 1975 standoff on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

As VOA reported in 2016, the FBI Agents Association insists Peltier is an “unremorseful, cold-blooded killer” who deserves to remain in prison. His defenders say he was framed for a crime he did not commit.

Peltier is nearly 80 and has spent more than half his life in prison. He has always proclaimed his innocence and has twice been denied parole.

Amnesty International USA followed the case for years and recently wrote the U.S. Parole Commission to plead for Peltier’s release on humanitarian grounds.

Parole was abolished for federal convicts in 1987, but Peltier remains eligible because he was convicted before that time.

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Lake Berryessa is seen with parts of California's newest national monument in the background, July 10, 2015, near Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument.
Lake Berryessa is seen with parts of California's newest national monument in the background, July 10, 2015, near Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument.

Tribes distinguish between co-managing and co-stewarding federal land

As part of his commitment to allow Native American tribes a say in the use of federal lands and waters, President Joe Biden expanded the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in Northern California to include a 17.7-kilometer-long (11-mile-long) north-south ridgeline that is sacred to the Patwin people in the region.

Biden’s May 2 proclamation renamed the ridgeline, previously known as Walker Ridge, to Molok Luyuk, or Condor Ridge, in the language of the three federally recognized Patwin tribes: the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, the Cachil DeHe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community and the Kletsel Dehe Wintun Nation.

The proclamation also called on Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to explore “co-stewardship” with those tribes. But co-stewardship doesn’t mean co-management. Those are powers only Congress can grant.

“Co-management means decision-making authority,” monument manager Melissa Hovey recently told Grist online magazine. “Co-stewardship means one entity still has the decision-making authority.”

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Native American news roundup, May 26-June 1, 2024

U.S. Senator Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, seen in this April 23, 2024, photo, has blocked President Joe Biden's pick of Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal attorney Danna Jackson to serve as a federal district court judge in Montana.
U.S. Senator Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, seen in this April 23, 2024, photo, has blocked President Joe Biden's pick of Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal attorney Danna Jackson to serve as a federal district court judge in Montana.

Senator blocks confirmation of first Native American federal judge

U.S. Senator Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana and member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, has blocked President Joe Biden’s pick, a Native American woman, to serve as a federal judge in Montana.

Biden in late April tapped Danna Jackson, a tribal attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana, as his choice to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, lauded her nomination.

“Danna Jackson has a proven track record of applying the law with fairness and integrity throughout her legal career, and I have no doubt that she’ll bring these high standards to the federal judiciary and District of Montana,” he said in an April 24 statement.

But Daines complained that Biden had not consulted with him before naming her.

“Federal judges in Montana are crushing our way of life because they legislate from the bench. Montanans want judges who will bring balance to our courts and uphold the Constitution,” he said in a statement.

If confirmed, Danna Jackson would be the first Native American to serve as a federal judge in that state, a lifetime position.

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Feds to work with South Dakota school district to ensure rights of Native students

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, says that the Rapid City Area Schools district in South Dakota has resolved to take action to ensure compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in how it teaches and disciplines students.

In December 2010, the OCR launched several investigations into whether schools in the Rapid City area treated Native American and white students differently in matters of discipline and access to special and advanced learning programs.

The investigation found evidence that Native American students were being disciplined more frequently and more harshly than white students and were discriminated against when it came to accessing advanced learning courses.

The school district has resolved to produce corrective plans, including hiring a “discipline equity supervisor” and advanced learning coordinator and allowing Native American community members a role in revising policies.

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This 1865 photograph shows French missionary Eugene Casimir Chirouse, left, and an unidentified priest standing with students at the Tulalip Mission School, Tulalip, Washington.
This 1865 photograph shows French missionary Eugene Casimir Chirouse, left, and an unidentified priest standing with students at the Tulalip Mission School, Tulalip, Washington.

New report details sexual abuse of Indigenous students in Catholic boarding schools

The Washington Post this week published the results of an investigation into the sexual abuse of Native American children in Catholic-run boarding schools in the Midwest, Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

The investigation revealed that at least 122 priests, nuns and brothers assigned to 22 boarding schools were later accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children in their care; most of these cases occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.

In May 2022, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland released the first volume of an investigation into the federal Indian boarding school system designed to assimilate Native children and ultimately take their land.

The initial report found that between 1819 and 1969, the federal Indian boarding school operated 408 federal schools across 37 states and territories.

A highly anticipated second volume was expected to be published in January but has not yet been released. Heidi Todacheene, a senior adviser to Haaland, told New Mexico lawmakers in December that the upcoming report would update the first volume to include names and tribal affiliations of individual students.

In July 2022, Pope Francis traveled to Alberta, Canada, where he apologized for the Catholic Church's role in Canada’s Indigenous residential schools and acknowledged the damaging impact on First Nations’ families and communities.

In a statement following that visit, the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition suggested he turn his attention next to the church’s role in the U.S. Indian boarding school system.

A lithograph showing the mass execution of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota, Dec. 26, 1862. Painted by W. H. Childs, it appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper on Jan. 24, 1863.
A lithograph showing the mass execution of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota, Dec. 26, 1862. Painted by W. H. Childs, it appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper on Jan. 24, 1863.

‘Mankato hanging hope’ to be repatriated to Minnesota tribe

The Minnesota Historical Society has agreed to repatriate the "Mankato Hanging Rope" to the Prairie Island Indian Community, who filed a claim under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

A Minnesota infantry soldier donated the rope to the society in 1869, saying that it had been used to execute Dakota ancestor Wicanhpi Wastedanpi (also known as Chaska).

He was one of 303 Dakota men convicted and sentenced to death by a military commission for their roles in the 1862 Dakota War. By law, President Abraham Lincoln was required to review the convictions, and he commuted the sentences of all but 39 men.

One man received a last-minute reprieve, and on December 26, 1862, the remaining 38 men were led to a scaffold in the town of Mankato and hanged in what was the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

It was later learned Wicanhpi Wastedanpi was one of two men hanged by mistake.

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Native American news roundup, May 12-18, 2024

FILE - Phillip Yazzie waits for a water drum in the back of his pickup truck to be filled in Teesto, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, Feb. 11, 2021.
FILE - Phillip Yazzie waits for a water drum in the back of his pickup truck to be filled in Teesto, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, Feb. 11, 2021.

Navajo president to council: Hurry and approve water rights settlements

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren has urged the tribal council to quickly approve a pair of proposed water rights settlements.

“The current round of negotiations to settle our claims to the Colorado River in Arizona began in the early 1990s but reach back to the 1960s,” Nygren said in a statement Tuesday. “This is a long time coming, so I look for a unanimous vote from council.”

Navajo Nation council speaker Crystalyne Curley introduced legislation May 11 to address water rights claims in the Rio San Jose Stream System and the Rio Puerco Basin in New Mexico, calling it a “monumental step forward in securing water sovereignty” for Navajo communities and sustaining water resources for “generations to come.”

Under the larger Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement, which Curley introduced May 12, the Navajo Nation would receive a significant amount of Arizona’s allocation of Colorado River Upper Basin water, a portion of Lower Basin water, all groundwater underneath the Navajo Nation and all surface water reaching the Navajo Nation from the Little Colorado River.

The Navajo Nation covers 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles). About 30% of Navajo families live without running water and must haul it from remote wells in order meet their basic household and livestock needs.

If Congress authorizes the agreement, it will provide up to $5 billion worth of water infrastructure and development for Navajo, Hopi and San Juan Southern Paiute tribes in Arizona.

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South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem listens to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairwoman Janet Alkire, unseen, during a tribal flags ceremony on Jan. 10, 2024, in Pierre. Eight out of nine South Dakota tribes have banned Noem, a Republican, from their reservations.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem listens to Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairwoman Janet Alkire, unseen, during a tribal flags ceremony on Jan. 10, 2024, in Pierre. Eight out of nine South Dakota tribes have banned Noem, a Republican, from their reservations.

Eight out of nine tribes banish South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem

Two more tribes in South Dakota this week banished Republican Governor Kristi Noem from their reservations over her suggestions that tribal leaders benefit from drug cartel activity.

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe endorsed a ban on Wednesday, a day after the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe passed a similar resolution. Now, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is the only one of nine tribes in South Dakota that has not followed suit.

“We want our children and fellow tribal members & tribal relatives across the State to be seen as equals and treated with respect and dignity like any other ethnicity in our State,” Lower Brule tribal chairman Clyde J. R. Estes posted on Facebook.

The bans follow remarks Noem made during separate town hall meetings in March.

“Their [tribes’] kids don’t have any hope. They don’t have parents who show up and help them,” Noem said, and she suggested that Mexican drug cartels operate on reservations to the benefit of some tribal leaders.

Crow Creek chairman Peter Lengkeek told South Dakota Public Broadcasting Wednesday that no Mexican drug cartels operate on his reservation.

“We have cartel products, like guns and drugs, but they pass over state highways getting to the reservation,” he said.

Tuesday, Noem appointed a former Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety chief to serve on the state’s Department of Tribal Relations, alleging he “found himself without a job” after he told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs about the cartel presence on tribal lands.

Noem’s office did not respond to VOA’s request for comment.

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Graduating student forced to remove beaded cap, feather

Native Americans protested on social media after officials at a New Mexico high school graduation ceremony confiscated a Lakota student’s beaded cap and feather.

In a video widely shared on social media, two Farmington High School officials are seen taking a cap and feather from Genesis White Bull and replacing it with one that was unadorned.

Navajo Nation first lady Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren expressed support for White Bull and for all students wishing to wear items of cultural significance on graduation day.

“For some graduates, this is the last graduation ceremony they will ever have,” she posted. “Deciding what to wear goes far beyond a simple decision of what color dress or shoes to wear. For Native students, this is a day to proudly wear our traditional regalia [that] reminds us of how far we’ve come as a people.”

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“G is for Genocide” by Hunkpapa Lakota artist Danielle SeeWalker. (Courtesy, Danielle SeeWalker)
“G is for Genocide” by Hunkpapa Lakota artist Danielle SeeWalker. (Courtesy, Danielle SeeWalker)

Colorado town cancels artist’s residency over controversial painting

Hunkpapa Lakota artist Danielle SeeWalker was slated to become the first Native American to serve as Vail, Colorado’s, summer 2024 artist-in-residence.

But that was before SeeWalker posted a painting titled “G is for Genocide” on social media. It shows a near-faceless woman wearing a feather and a keffiyeh, the traditional Bedouin headscarf that has become the symbol for solidarity with Palestinians.

“It is about me expressing the parallels between what is happening to the innocent people in Gaza ... to that of the genocide of Native American populations here in our lands,” SeeWalker wrote in an Instagram post.

A community member saw the post and complained to the city, which abruptly canceled this year’s residency program just weeks before it was slated to begin.

“They called me last week, and the phone call lasted about a minute and a half,” SeeWalker told VOA. “I didn’t get a word in edgewise. If I could have had the opportunity to have a fruitful, engaging conversation about what I stand for as an artist, as an Indigenous woman, I would have appreciated that.”

In a statement on its website, the town of Vail said that while it “embraces her messaging and artwork surrounding Native Americans,” the town does not want to use public funds to support “any position on a polarizing geopolitical issue.”

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Native American news roundup, May 5-11, 2024

Arthur John, a retired trapper, carries firewood to his home Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021 in the Native Village of Tanacross, Alaska. COVID of robbed him of the lifestyle he so enjoyed, such as using a chainsaw to chop enough wood to heat their house through winter.
Arthur John, a retired trapper, carries firewood to his home Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021 in the Native Village of Tanacross, Alaska. COVID of robbed him of the lifestyle he so enjoyed, such as using a chainsaw to chop enough wood to heat their house through winter.

Senators look to improve services for Indigenous elders

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Tina Smith (D-Minnesota) have introduced legislation to improve federal programs and services for Alaska Native, American Indian, and Native Hawaiian elders and allow them to age in their home communities.

The Enhancing Native Elders’ Longevity, Dignity, Empowerment, and Respect (Native ELDER) Act would set up an advisory committee to improve OAA services to Native American elders, who already face worse health outcomes compared to other senior citizens.

“When meeting with Alaska stakeholders, they identified home modifications to improve accessibility and caregiver support as some of the greatest unmet needs for Alaska Native Elders,” Murkowski said.

Smith said that giving elders the tools to age comfortably and with dignity in their own homes will help keep tribal communities strong.

“I’m proud this bill will help to deliver on that promise,” she added.

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Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra speaks at a news conference, Oct. 18, 2022, in Washington. Tribes in the Great Plains say HHS has not responded to alarming rise in syphilis cases.
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra speaks at a news conference, Oct. 18, 2022, in Washington. Tribes in the Great Plains say HHS has not responded to alarming rise in syphilis cases.

Feds fail to respond to syphilis crisis among Great Plains tribes

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department had failed to respond to urgent calls from Great Plains tribes about alarming rates of syphilis cases among Native Americans in the region, according to the nonprofit digital newsroom ProPublica.

The statistics are alarming: In 2023, three percent of all Native American babies born in South Dakota were infected, and the syphilis rate among Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains is higher than any recorded rate in the U.S. since 1941, the year doctors discovered the infection could be treated with penicillin.

In February, the Great Plains Tribal Leaders’ Health Board called on HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to declare a state of emergency, to send in Public Health Services officers to help diagnose and treat cases, and to fund tribal efforts to better respond to the crisis.

So far, Becerra has not responded, but an HHS spokesperson told ProPublica that the department has received the request and will “respond directly.”

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South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem attends an event Jan. 10, 2024, at the state Capitol in Pierre, S.D. So far, five tribes have banned Noem from their reservations, and others may soon follow.
South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem attends an event Jan. 10, 2024, at the state Capitol in Pierre, S.D. So far, five tribes have banned Noem from their reservations, and others may soon follow.

South Dakota governor now banned from five Indian reservations

This week, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, or SWO, became the fifth Native American tribe in South Dakota to ban Governor Kristi Noem from Trust Lands of the Lake Traverse Reservation until such time that she issues a formal and public apology.

The resolution, passed Tuesday, says Noem has “made statements and undertaken actions that have been injurious toward the parents of tribal children, thus detracting from the value of their education.”

It also accuses Noem of “undermining the Tribal Council’s efforts to combat the drug epidemic.”

During a town hall meeting on March 13, Noem said she believes tribal leaders are 'personally benefiting' from drug cartels and that tribal children 'don’t have parents who show up and help them.'

To date, five tribes have banned Noem from about 17 percent of land in the state.

Dakota News Now reports that other tribes are considering similar bans.

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Dayne Hudson, member of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, holds his eagle feather fan before the Canyon View High School graduation Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Dayne Hudson, member of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, holds his eagle feather fan before the Canyon View High School graduation Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Cedar City, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

NARF: Indigenous students deserve both recognition and religion

Growing numbers of Native American students are stepping up to assert their rights to wear feathers, leis and other cultural regalia during graduation ceremonies. While many schools across the country allow the practice, some school districts hold out, saying it violates dress codes.

The Native American Rights Fund, or NARF, has developed a pair of flyers to help students and schools navigate the issue. One flyer is designed to help students responsibly advocate for changes in school policy.

A second flyer aims to help school districts understand the cultural and religious significance of wearing eagle feathers.

“The U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause protects religious practices and recognize[s] the exercise of religion as an unalienable right,” NARF states on its website. “Wearing an eagle feather or regalia to show academic success and religious beliefs should be considered protected practices.”

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A view shows the office of TikTok in Culver City, California, March 13, 2024. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
A view shows the office of TikTok in Culver City, California, March 13, 2024. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Tribes, advocacy group, fight Montana TikTok ban

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, or CSKT, and the National Congress of American Indians, or NCAI, have joined in the fight against Montana’s 2023 TikTok ban on grounds that it violates tribal sovereignty.

In April 2023, Montana became the first U.S. state to ban TikTok on all personal devices operating inside the state. It cited concerns that TikTok, owned by the Chinese tech firm Bytedance, could use the platform to harvest user data and share it with the Chinese Communist Party.

In November 2023, a federal judge temporarily blocked the ban as a violation of free speech rights. NCAI and the CSKT, along with other free speech and internet freedom advocacy groups, are now urging a federal appeals court to uphold the lower court’s decision.

In an amicus brief filed Tuesday, they argued that the ban infringes on tribal sovereignty including tribes' digital sovereignty.

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D-Day veteran spreads message of peace ahead of 80th anniversary

FILE — WWII veteran Charles Shay, pays tribute to soldiers during a D-Day commemoration ceremony of the 78th anniversary for those who helped end World War II, in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, June 6, 2022.
FILE — WWII veteran Charles Shay, pays tribute to soldiers during a D-Day commemoration ceremony of the 78th anniversary for those who helped end World War II, in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, June 6, 2022.

On D-Day, Charles Shay was a 19-year-old U.S. Army medic who was ready to give his life — and save as many as he could.

Now 99, he's spreading a message of peace with tireless dedication as he's about to take part in the 80th anniversary commemorations of the landings in Normandy that led to the liberation of France and Europe from Nazi Germany occupation.

"I guess I was prepared to give my life if I had to. Fortunately, I did not have to," Shay said in an interview with The Associated Press.

A Penobscot tribe citizen from Indian Island in the U.S. state of Maine, Shay has been living in France since 2018, not far from the shores of Normandy where many world leaders are expected to come next month. Solemn ceremonies will be honoring the nearly 160,000 troops from Britain, the U.S., Canada and other nations who landed on June 6, 1944.

Nothing could have prepared Shay for what happened that morning on Omaha Beach: bleeding soldiers, body parts and corpses strewn around him, machine-gun fire and shells filling the air.

"I had been given a job, and the way I looked at it, it was up to me to complete my job," he recalled. "I did not have time to worry about my situation of being there and perhaps losing my life. There was no time for this."

Shay was awarded the Silver Star for repeatedly plunging into the sea and carrying critically wounded soldiers to relative safety, saving them from drowning. He also received France's highest award, the Legion of Honor, in 2007.

Still, Shay could not save his good friend, Pvt. Edward Morozewicz. The sad memory remains vivid in his mind as he describes seeing his 22-year-old comrade lying on the beach with a serious stomach wound.

"He had a wound that I could not help him with because I did not have the proper instruments ... He was bleeding to death. And I knew that he was dying. I tried to comfort him. And I tried to do what I could for him, but there was no help," he said. "And while I was treating him, he died in my arms."

"I lost many close friends," he added.

A total of 4,414 Allied troops were killed on D-Day itself, including 2,501 Americans. More than 5,000 were wounded.

Shay survived. At night, exhausted, he eventually fell asleep in a grove above the beach.

"When I woke up in the morning. It was like I was sleeping in a graveyard because there were dead Americans and Germans surrounding me," he recalled. "I stayed there for not very long and I continued on my way."

Shay then pursued his mission in Normandy for several weeks, rescuing those wounded, before heading with American troops to eastern France and Germany, where he was taken prisoner in March 1945 and liberated a few weeks later.

After World War II, Shay reenlisted in the military because the situation of Native Americans in his home state of Maine was too precarious due to poverty and discrimination.

"I tried to cope with the situation of not having enough work or not being able to help support my mother and father. Well, there was just no chance for young American Indian boys to gain proper labor and earn a good job," he said.

Maine would not allow individuals living on Native American reservations to vote until 1954.

Shay continued to witness history — returning to combat as a medic during the Korean War, participating in U.S. nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands and later working at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria.

For over 60 years, he did not talk about his WWII experience.

But he began attending D-Day commemorations in 2007 and in recent years, he has seized many occasions to give his powerful testimony. A book about his life, "Spirits are guiding" by author Marie-Pascale Legrand, is about to be released this month.

In 2018, he moved from Maine to Bretteville-l'Orgueilleuse, a French small town in the Normandy region to stay at a friend's home.

During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21, coming from his nearby home, he was among the few veterans able to attend commemorations. He stood up for all others who could not make the trip amid restrictions.

Shay also used to lead a Native American ritual each year on D-Day, burning sage in homage to those who died. In 2022, he handed over the remembrance task to another Native American, Julia Kelly, a Gulf War veteran from the Crow tribe, who since has performed the ritual in his presence.

The Charles Shay Memorial on Omaha Beach pays tribute to the 175 Native Americans who landed there on D-Day.

Often, Shay expressed his sadness at seeing wars still waging in the world and what he considers the senseless loss of lives.

Shay said he had hoped D-Day would bring global peace. "But it has not, because you see that we go from one war to the next. There will always be wars. People and nations cannot get along with each other."

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