A Minnesota PBS Initiative

The People's Protectors

Four Native American veterans reflect on their experiences in the military during the divisive Vietnam War and how their communities helped them carry their warrior legacy proudly. From the Marine Corps to the Navy to the US Army veterans Valerie Barber, Art Owen, Sandy White Hawk, Vince Beyl, and civilian eyapaha (announcer) Jerry Dearly recall their memories of one of the most controversial wars in United States history. Even as they struggled with their relationship to the United States government from genocidal policies and government oppression; the Dakota, Lakota, and Ojibwe warriors still felt compelled to honor their duty to their people as Akichita | Ogichidaag | Warriors, as protectors of the people. A lifetime later, these soldiers meet us in the studio as they begin to tell their stories.

Funded by Vision Maker Media and the Mark and Mary Davis Foundation.


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Director’s Statement: 

As a young girl I was raised in the Los Angeles American Indian community and taught at a young age to listen to elder’s experiences. I was told warriors are to be respected. I rely on these teachings daily in my storytelling and personal life, but especially while I was directing The People’s Protectors.

Bringing the stories of Native American warriors to life for television has been an honor. These stories were compelling to me because they are the stories of my community, and those around me. They are the stories I rarely heard growing up. They are the stories I hope my children will hear.

Our featured storytellers are not just heroes, but community leaders and teachers. Vince is an active member of the American Legion and organizes an annual motorcycle fundraiser to support local military families. Sandy speaks across the country about her adoptee and Native veteran identities. Art continues to help veterans from all wars heal and transition to healthy protectors in their communities.

Valerie gets her due when she receives an invitation to President Obama’s 2009 inauguration (decades after her service ended she discovered she was the first Native American female mechanic in the Marine Corps.) Jerry is adopted by the Sisseton Wahpeton Veterans Association Color Guard for his work in honoring the history of their warrior people, active-duty personnel, and retired veterans. They are epic to me, but, like most good storytellers, they are also kind friends and mentors.

As a Dakota/Diné filmmaker, it is deeply important to me to continue celebrating the stories of my people, as well as sharing with non-Natives the challenges we face. I believe that The People’s Protectors can combat decades-long stigmas against veterans and empower all Native people—in fact, all people–to be protectors within their communities by remembering and honoring the bravery of those who served as Akichita | Ogichidaag | Warriors.

People Protectors Poster, includes mixed images of flag, a military helmet and rifle

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