MVSKOKE RESERVATION – After two decades of hardwork and patience, U.S. Senate Bill 1725, which will grant a federal charter to the National American Indian Veterans Inc. (NAIV) will now be signed into law by President Joe Biden in January. The bill was initially introduced by Senator Mike Rounds from South Dakota in May 2021. In November 2022, the bill passed unanimously through the U.S. Senate. On Dec. 15 in a statement from Senator Rounds’ Office it was announced that the bill was passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2024.
Mvskoke veteran and advocate Michael Coon helped push efforts to get the bill passed. His involvement stems back five years when NAIV National Commander Don Loudner (Hunkpati Sioux) invited Coon to become a region five commander that would represent the 39 tribes in Oklahoma, along with Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas. Upon invitation, Coon accepted the high responsibility of serving Native vets in his region.
Loudner is a Korean War veteran from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Currently 91 years old, friends and family are unsure how much time he has left to live due to failing health. Brothers in arms like Coon have been praying that Loudner would be physically strong enough to travel to Washington D.C. to see SB 1725 signed by the president. This would be a crowning achievement of Loudner’s life work serving Native veterans.
According to Coon, SB 1725 has been in the works for 20 years with Loudner supporting it every step of the way. Loudner and Coon, along with many other Native vets from across the nation worked tirelessly to get the NAIV federally chartered. Finally, in 2021 Senator Rounds and Senator Ben Ray Luján from New Mexico introduced legislation before the senate.
Coon had also worked with Senator Markwayne Mullin, Senator James Lankford and former Senator Jim Inhofe regarding the NAIV federal charter. Coon feels that while military veterans get proper recognition in society, Native vets do not always get the same recognition.
“I was so thrilled for our veterans across the nation because we’re the highest ethnic group to serve in the nation. I think it’s time we finally get recognized and that our veterans get what they deserve,” Coon said. “All veterans get recognized but as far as the Native Americans they always seem to leave us out.”
According to Coon, the charter will better help all Native vets, regardless of their residential status. This means that Native veterans that live outside of the jurisdictional boundaries of their tribe will still have access to benefits and services through the new charter.
Native American Indian Veterans Inc.
NAIV is a nonprofit organization that serves Native American veterans in 14 regional offices across the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, there are currently over 140,000 Native Americans veterans in the United States. As an ethnic group, Native Americans have the highest record of military service, five times the national average. The United States has granted charters to other ethnic-specific veteran groups, however this is the first Native American veteran organization to receive a charter.
“Native Americans serve in our nation’s military at five times the national average, and this charter gives them the recognition they truly deserve and have earned,” Senator Rounds said. “The NAIV works closely with Tribal Veterans Service Officers to make certain Native American veterans receive proper benefits and resources. Congress regularly looks to the NAIV for input when addressing issues facing Native American veterans. This charter will help give the NAIV a larger platform to continue advocating for and serving the more than 140,000 Native American veterans living in the United States. I am pleased to have had it included as part of this year’s NDAA.”
The bill has been supported by a number of Native American tribes, including the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation, Oglala Sioux Nation, and the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma.
“Native veterans have served our country from Valley Forge to Afghanistan and with this action, Congress has shown Native American veterans past and present the respect that is so well earned.” Loudner said.
Coon is currently seeking funding from the MCN National Council to go to Washington to see the bill signed by President Biden in person with Loudner. Coon’s trip is in need of funding for airfare and lodging. Coon also requested thoughts and prayers for Loudner during this time so that he would be able to attend the official signing himself.