INDIAN ISLAND, Maine — They fought in all of the wars of this country, even though they weren’t recognized as full American citizens until 1964.
So it is high time to celebrate Maine’s first Native American Veterans Day, Penobscot Indians said at a veterans recognition dinner held Friday night at the Penobscot Nation Community Building on Indian Island.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said tribal Rep. Wayne Mitchell.
He and Passamaquoddy Rep. Donald Soctomah worked for a year on legislation to create the Native American Veterans Day. In April, Gov. John Baldacci signed into law the bill making June 21 Native American Veterans Day.
“It’s way overdue,” Mitchell said.
Maine is the first state to have an official Native American Veterans Day, Mitchell said.
“They deserve the recognition,” he said. “A lot of them were wounded. A lot died.”
Neana Neptune, a tribal elder, wore a brightly ribboned shirt as she gave the opening prayer on Friday.
Neptune said her mother was in the Army during World War II, her father was stationed in the Philippines during that war, and her husband was a Vietnam veteran.
“Our history goes back a long ways, for all the veterans,” Neptune said after the ceremony. “We’ve always been there, right from the beginning.”
Charles Shay, who recently returned from D-Day ceremonies in France and has received the French Legion of Honor for his heroic action on D-Day, was briefly honored at the ceremony.
Tribal Historian James Francis gave a slide show presentation of some of the veterans who served from the Penobscot Tribe, from Chief Joseph Orono agreeing to ally with the Colonies against England during the Revolutionary War to the “many warriors” serving today in the Middle East.
“We live in historic times,” Francis said. “Thank you all for your courage and your service.”
The Penobscots also held a private dawn ceremony on Sunday to mark the day.