National Veterans Exhibit Comes to Mille Lacs Indian Museum


Story and Photos by Amikogaabawiikwe (Adrienne Benjamin) Mille Lacs Band Member

On Friday, May 25, four Band members — Anthony Pike, Arlyn Nickaboine, Quintin Sam, and Michael Mager — were honored during the opening of a new visiting exhibit at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum. Intricate wooden plaques with their names were added to the museum’s existing wall of veterans from Mille Lacs. The museum wall holds the name of every Mille Lacs Band member who has served in the military from past to present.

Travis Zimmerman, Curator of the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post, was excited about the new exhibit and the addition of the four local veterans onto the wall. “We want to keep this as up-to-date as possible. We even had Michael reach out to us from Arizona about wanting to be included on the wall.”

“Patriot Nations” is the exhibit currently on loan from the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., until September 3, 2018. The new exhibit shares information on Native American populations in the military. According to the Department of Defense, Native Americans serve in high numbers, and 24,000 of the 1.2 million enlisted, current, active duty service men and women are Native American.

A nod is given by the exhibit to the ceremonies of Native people and the deep root and power carried overseas with the troops who have left their homelands.
Here in Mille Lacs, ceremonies are usually done before a person will go into war, just as they were done in the old days. One Elder (Amik- ogaabaw’iban) once told me a story about a group of men who were drafted in the Aazhoomog community long ago. All but one of them had this specific ceremony done for them for one reason or another, and all but one of them returned home after the war. He used to say, “I’m not saying you have to believe me about the power of that ceremony, but that’s what really happened.”

One of the exhibit pieces is dedicated to telling the story of the high number of Native American women who serve in the military and specifically features Band member Lisa Jackson. It tells her story of enlistment into the Navy at age 23, and how she viewed her service as a bigger mission to help her people. She is quoted in the exhibit as powerfully saying, “The mission of the military is one thing, but the mission of helping your people and being part of the community and making a difference here is another.”

The opening had a unique visitor from St. Cloud in Mr. Lyle Rustad, who was eager to share his story with me about himself and what drew him to the event. He explained that he was a Vietnam veteran (1970–1971), came back, and served stateside in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He became the director of a then all-white Boys Club in the heart of the south, and was proud to tell me that he was fired for hiring the first African American woman to his staff and allowing the first African American young men to attend the club on his watch. Mr. Rustad said he supports diversity and was proud to support this exhibit and the veterans of Mille Lacs.

The display will run until September 3, and can be viewed during the Mille Lacs Indian Museum’s operational hours. Please visit the museum’s website or stop in for further details.


Above: Site ManagerTravis Zimmerman, right, visited with guests at the exhibit opening May 25.

Below: Lisa Jackson is featured in a display at the Patriot Nations exhibit at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum.