CHICAGO (WLS) -- Patty Loew's grandfather fought in World War I, part of a long tradition of Native Americans who have joined in the U.S. military.
"I could never understand why he would volunteer because they weren't citizens," she said. "They didn't have to serve."
Loew is the director of Northwestern University's Center for Native American and Indigenous Research. She said despite the fraught history between Native Americans and the U.S., many Native Americans have still chosen to serve.
"This was a theme I found repeated throughout Indian Country, the United States is at war. Our homelands are threatened. So we're going to protect our people," she said.
Joseph Podlasek is the founder and CEO of Trickster Cultural Center in Schaumburg. The center has exhibits on Native American military service.
"We have engaged in every war the U.S. took part in," Podlasek said. "The military is deeply embedded in our culture."
Podlasek and Loew said some Native Americans have been motivated by family and tribal traditions.
"Some men and women were born into war clans so they were obligated to be protectors," Loew said.
Others wanted a better life.
"I was working at a flower shop which I loved, but it was minimum wage," said Jennifer DeBouver, who was 22 when she decided to enlist in the U.S. Army.
She said she believes many Native Americans continue to enlist in the military for the same reasons she did.
"I think a lot of Native Americans are attracted to the military because a lot of us are in rural areas. There's nothing there for us," she said. "So I think a lot of them turn to the military to give themselves a lot more opportunities."
DeBouver has a family member who served as a code talker during World War II. She said it's important for everyone to know the history of service of Native Americans in the military.
Native American Heritage Month: Native Americans have long history of military service
NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH