WASHINGTON –- Brig. Gen. Doug Lowrey could trace his origins of his Native American ancestry to a two-by-four piece of plywood in his grandmother’s Oklahoma home.
His grandmother had a poster board bearing the names of Lowrey’s American Indian ancestors.
Inspired by his grandmother’s research, Lowrey began inquiring on his own, which later revealed he descended from the Cherokee tribe that made its tragic pilgrimage west during the Trail of Tears. In the mid-1800s, Federal decree forced Native American tribes to leave their homelands in the American southeast and embark on a 5,000-mile relocation journey to the Oklahoma territory. Many natives died from disease or starvation during the trek.
As a young man growing up in small Oklahoma town, he learned about the life of his native ancestors including his seventh great-grandfather, a Cherokee Chief who reigned in the 1700s.
“Really what’s inspired me is just a lifetime of learning about where did I come from?” said Lowrey, who has Scottish and Native American lineage. “And I think it's a pretty great story; I’m very proud of my Cherokee heritage.”
As the lone Army general with American Indian ancestry, Lowrey has spoken at public events including a Facebook Live broadcast Wednesday night, where he discussed the importance of recognizing Native American contributions to the Army and the nation.
As the head of the Mission Installation and Contracting Command in San Antonio, he supports readiness requirements at 31 continental U.S. Army installations. He said that in the past 10 years the command has done $220 million worth of transactions that directly impact readiness with Native American-based companies.
More than 20 Native Americans serving in the Army have earned Medals of Honor and American Indians have contributed to the U.S. military in every major conflict since the Revolutionary War. Many of the Army’s patches and insignias pay tribute to Native American designs including the Special Forces Patch depicts an arrowhead.
Native Americans have the highest rate of military service per capita among ethnic groups in the U.S. and also the highest percentage of women per capita than other ethnicities. Despite Native Americans’ complex history with the U.S. government, they serve in the Armed Forces at five times the national average according to the United Service Organizations estimates.
Lowrey also discovered that his fourth great-grandfather, who was part Scottish and Native American, married a Cherokee chief’s daughter and served as an assistant principal chief during American Indian relocations. He said his great grandfather negotiated treaties between the Cherokee Nation and the U.S. government.
Lowrey later found the location of the plot of land his grandfather owned in Tennessee. The elder Lowrey passed down books of Cherokee fables, including one called “Journey to Sunrise:Myths and Legends of the Cherokee,” that Lowrey shares with his children today.
Lowrey comes from a line of military service. His father earned two Purple Hearts during the Vietnam War and both of his grandfathers served during World War II. Lowrey said his family raised him with grounded moral values that reflect the core beliefs of the Cherokees and the U.S. Army.
He said that Native American life centers on being part of a tribe or a team and serving a cause greater than themselves.
“That fierce loyalty to values and family extends not just into the blood family, but those around you that become your family,” he said. “That's really what's … shaped me as a person; is being part of something bigger than yourself.”
Lowrey added that the Cherokee Nation sets an example for diversity and inclusion, which parallels the Army’s current efforts to increase diversity. He said that the Cherokee people don’t discriminate against members who have mixed or partial Native American heritage, but rather, accepts diversity in their community.
“They're also very inclusive,” he said. “There's very little discrimination on how much Cherokee Indian [by] blood you [are].”
Although Lowrey has spent time speaking about his Native American heritage and has attended American Indian events including powwows, he questioned whether he could do more.
He said that he didn’t see much diversity in the Army’s upper ranks when he first commissioned into the service.
“Everybody's important, and that diversity is what makes us special,” Lowrey said. “That's what makes the United States special … It brings about different experiences, cultures and heritage.”