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    Monday, November 28, 2022

    Living examples of Native American contributions to national defense

    Bill Donehey, a Mohegan Tribal member and Vietnam War veteran, sits outside Mohegan Sun on Friday, Oct. 22, 2022. Donehey is holding the eagle feather that he uses for military deployment ceremonies. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Personal items of Bill Donehey, a Mohegan Tribal member and Vietnam War veteran. The cap is for the First Armored Division and has a pin with his First Battalion 22nd Field Artillery unit crest and a 1973 Vietnam Campaign ribbon pin. The choker necklace is made with M16 rifle cartridge shells, his unit’s crest and National Defense medal.The eagle feather, that he uses for military deployment ceremonies, has his Good Conduct Medal ribbon, National Defense Medal ribbon, and Vietnam Campaign Medal ribbon in its handle. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Lisa "Silver Crow" Perreault

    From the Revolutionary War to the beaches of Normandy and beyond, Native Americans have long had a presence in the American military.

    It’s no different in Connecticut.

    Mohegan Tribal members Bill Donehey and Lisa “Silver Crow” Perreault serve as living examples of Native American contributions to the country’s defense.

    Donehey, 67, of of Uncasville, is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He works at Mohegan Sun as performance improvement manager and has been the driving force behind the tribe’s inclusion programs. He said he wouldn’t be in his position — or in a position to help disabled people — if not for his experience in the Army.

    His time in the Army gave him confidence, determination and the belief that he could accomplish any mission if he applied himself.

    Donehey is vice chairman of the Mohegan Honor Guard. He said he’s looking forward to “Vets Rock,” a day of valuable programs and resources for veterans at Mohegan Sun, on Nov. 11.

    “We’ll be displaying our flags and leading all the vets through the casino with our marching,” he said.

    From South Boston originally, he said he grew up one of six children in a one-bedroom apartment. Their mother, Laura Estelle White Donehey, was disabled.

    He joined the Army at age 17 because he said, “It was a good way out of the city.”

    Donehey went to Fort Dix in New Jersey and was later sent to Vietnam, where he deployed shoulder-fired missiles to shoot down airplanes.

    He served for three years, leaving the military as a 20-year-old. He traded his stereo system for a car, a 1969 Chevy van he referred to as a “hoopty,” and hit the road, ending up in southern California.

    “I got a job in a restaurant so I knew where my next meal was coming from,” Donehey said.

    He worked for a variety of companies in restaurant management, including Olive Garden, Denny’s and nightclubs.

    He was living in Seattle in 1994 when the Mohegans were recognized by the federal government.

    “My mother talked about it (recognition) every day. ‘Some day, some day, some day,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, OK,’” Donehey continued. “She was very active in the 60s and 70s up until her passing in the early 80s. I knew I had a commitment to Mohegan, so I came back in August of 2001.”

    Donehey said he was aware of the military service of Native Americans, noting that Mohegans have served in every war since the Revolutionary War.

    Asked why Native Americans would fight for a country that had wronged them for hundreds of years, Donehey said, “It is what it is, that’s what they did back then. The difference was they were into land ownership, and we didn’t believe in land ownership.”

    A foundation to build upon

    Lisa “Silver Crow” Perreault, 58, is a Marine and a member of the Mohegan Tribe.

    Perreault served from 1983-1987 — during the Cold War — and was primarily stationed in Buford, S.C. She worked in aircraft maintenance control, ensuring the equipment was In good repair.

    She traveled all over the world to communicate about different jets to make sure they were correctly repaired.

    Her story on how she joined the military, she admits, “is a little different than most.”

    Perreault said she was abused as a child, and when she got out of high school, she became a heroin user.

    “I woke up one day, and my boyfriend was dead. I sat there after absorbing what had happened and I asked myself, ʽWhat is the exact opposite of what I’m doing today?’” Perreault said. “And it was to join the Marine Corps. I joined the absolutely hardest thing I possibly could to try to change my path. And I did.”

    Perreault said her time in the military taught her integrity and honesty, but it took years, in part because of her addiction. Her experience as a Marine gave her a foundation to build upon and grow from.

    Perreault now works as a successful stone carver, making stone pipes for people to smoke cannabis from, and is “very well-known in the cannabis community.” She works with veterans and vets’ organizations that help provide access to cannabis for former military members.

    “I’m very heavy into promoting cannabis for PTSD,” Perreault said. “I have PTSD myself, not military-related, medical-related. I momentarily died during a surgery. So cannabis was able to get me off all those medications, 27 different medications.”

    “I started working with other veterans and realized how much it could help them,” Perreault continued. “They get on so many different medications for their PTSD, and they become a different person. Being able to watch these military guys get their life back and their minds back is really amazing.”

    Perreault is the Eagle Staff bearer for the Mohegan Tribe. She said she is one of a handful of women in the world that carries the Eagle Staff. Her Native American identity is essential to her. But according to Perreault, a military recruiter told her it was best to keep her background under wraps, and that the military had similarly racist attitudes toward Native Americans and Black people.

    “Nobody was allowed to know. My recruiter told me that I was not allowed to put down I was a Native American, or I would get a bad job, because I was considered Black. This is a long time ago,” she said. “This is the 80s, where racism was very strong. I am not the only Native that this happened to. When they wanted you to join, because they knew you would fight, they didn’t want you to identify as Native American.”

    Perreault had endured similar treatment while growing up in Canterbury.

    “My whole life was like that, living in the quiet corner of Connecticut. My father was white and my mother was Native, and we weren’t allowed to tell anyone we were Mohegan,” Perreault said. “We used to go to secret meetings at Fort Shantock for little picnics, and that was the only time we were able to be natives.”

    Perreault said it was difficult to hide who she was, but she never divulged the information because opportunities would have been taken from her.

    Perreault also said that because she is white-passing, people felt comfortable saying racist things around her.

    Even with America’s dismal history with Native Americans, Perreault said she believes “it’s in our genetics to protect and fight.”

    “We have a generational commitment to society. Natives tend to be the first ones to step up and help people, even the ones who oppress them. It’s just who we are,” she said. “The percentage of Native Americans who join the military is much higher than any other race.”

    Perreault said she doesn’t believe the public understands the extent to which Native Americans have fought for the U.S.

    “It doesn’t matter who’s running things, we are going to protect the land. The land and what’s on it matters,” she said. “Our ancestors are part of the trees. The spirituality of what it means to be Native American. We are here to protect the land. No matter how we are treated, that’s what we do.”

    s.spinella@theday.com

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