Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Canadian Indian's Age-Old Call to U.S. Duty

Corporal Killed in Iraq Served With Army, Marines

By Doug Struck
The Washington Post
Sunday, November 26, 2006; Page A14

FREDERICTON, Canada -- Someone gave Theresa Seeley tobacco to scatter on her son's coffin -- a gift, in the Indian tradition, for the elders waiting to greet his soul.

She was uncomfortable with it. "That wasn't what we believed in," she said. Her son Michael was raised "like every other Joe Canadian," with little time for the folklore of his Mi'kmaq tribe.

But as she looked around the crowded graveyard at the funeral, on a New Brunswick hill near where Michael had cavorted on his bike and skipped school with full-of-life glee, it was hard to pick the group in which her son had fit.

There, saluting in solemn slow motion, were soldiers -- American officers, formal and stiff -- who had brought his body from Iraq as one of their own. There were other soldiers, Canadians, honoring a casualty of a war not theirs. There were non-natives, Michael's friends from school and town. And there were representatives from two tribes, come to acknowledge the cost of a centuries-old custom that has sent Indians to fight in U.S. wars.

Seeley gently tossed the tobacco into the grave.

Her son, Cpl. Michael T. Seeley, 27, was killed Oct. 30 by a roadside bomb outside Baghdad. He was on the last two days of his second tour of Iraq -- the first with U.S. Marines, the second with the U.S. Army. He lived in Canada, a country overwhelmingly opposed to the Iraq war. But he wore a U.S. military uniform, as do at least two dozen other native citizens of North America entitled to fight for either country.

"It hearkens back to the warrior tradition that is part of the culture of many tribes," said John Moses, an assistant curator at the Canadian Museum of Civilization near Ottawa. "Culturally, it remains a significant rite of passage among North American Indians to perform some military service.

"And if they are trying to get in the thick of things quicker, enlistment in the U.S. armed services is probably the way to go," said Moses, a First Nations, as natives are called in Canada, who served in the Canadian armed forces.

Michael always wanted things quicker, said his mother, sitting at her kitchen table a week after she buried her son. Hers is a white-frame house with a pool in the back, a basketball hoop in the front and an assortment of cars parked outside. It is "off-reserve" -- fewer than half of Canada's aboriginals live on native reserves -- and is like so many other suburban homes spreading through the flat woodland outside Fredericton.

Various others of her four sons and daughter, girlfriends and relatives gathered in the warm kitchen, listening quietly while Theresa Seeley talked without tears of Michael, the rambunctious one.

He was easily bored, anxious to get on with life. School did not interest him, but he liked being a cadet in the reserves. After he graduated from Fredericton High School in 1998, the relatively small Canadian military said they would have a space for him in a year. Instead, he called the U.S. Marines in Maine and insisted on joining right away.

The Pentagon says the U.S. military includes 172 persons born in Canada, most with dual citizenship or U.S. permanent residence status. But Canadian-born First Nations need not meet those requirements. A 1794 treaty between the fledgling United States and Britain recognized that native bands straddled the border and should cross freely.

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