FORT DETRICK, Md. -- From his outward appearance, it’s hard to tell that Lt. Col. Bashiri Phillips has Native American roots.
Growing up in southern Alabama, Phillips, a member of Ma-Chis Lower Creek tribe, learned the customs of his people and how they lived. They respected the land and learned to coexist with nature, while defending against intruders the territory they called home.
“The Native Americans were the first to defend the land that is now known as the United States,” Phillips said. “… My family made sure I knew the contributions and sacrifices of our people.”
Phillips reflected on his heritage, while shedding light on some of the lesser-known stories of Native American contributions to the birth of the country, during a Native American Heritage observance Nov. 29 at Fort Detrick.
The Ma-Chis Nation, one of 574 federally recognized tribes, was made up of remnants of what was known to European settlers as the “Creek Confederacy” in the southeastern portion of the present-day U.S.
Muskogee language-speaking Native Americans inhabited the area.
Others considered them “friendlies,” as many blended in with settlers instead of relocating to the west during forced removal under the Indian Removal Act of the 1830s.
Phillips, who serves as the G-8 in the capacity of chief finance officer for U.S. Army Medical Logistics Command, said his participation in the event came as a surprise to everyone, especially since most people just see him as African-American.
That, he said, inspired his remarks that highlighted some “invisible contributions” of Native Americans.
“Had it not been for the political efforts of Native American chiefs and their counsels to face down three European military mights, often-simultaneously, and in doing so weaken their will to colonialize North America, perhaps the America we know today would have been forged very differently,” Phillips said.
Col. Victor Suarez, commander of the 6th Medical Logistics Management Center, which hosted the event, said Phillips’ remarks were overwhelmingly impactful, helping to demonstrate the value of Native Americans, both then and now.
“It was impactful because it demonstrated that although there are Native Americans serving, we may not even realize that they might be serving alongside us every day,” Suarez said of Phillips.
“It is important to have these observances as it helps our Soldiers and fellow Department of Army Civilians understand, be aware and be inspired by those we work with by knowing a bit more about their cultural roots and how they may have formed their values, beliefs and, most importantly, character to successfully serve in the U.S. military.”