Engineer Soldier represents Native American heritage

16th Engineer Brigade Public Affairs
Story by Spc. Brian Johnson

Date: 11.25.2009
Posted: 11.25.2009 05:27
News ID: 41990
Engineer Soldier represents Native American heritage

BAGHDAD — Since 1994, Native American Heritage has been celebrated throughout the month of November.

Soldiers of the 16th Engineer Brigade are proud that one of their own has firsthand knowledge of Native American culture.

Sgt. Remi Bald Eagle, raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and currently from Westlake, Ohio, has a keen awareness not only of Native American heritage, but of the challenges of growing up between cultures.

Sgt. Bald Eagle was raised by his parents, Chief David Bald Eagle, a Lakota Indian and former Army Soldier, and his mother, Josee, a native of Belgium. Bald Eagle's whole life has been deeply rooted in diversity, beginning with his parents' chance meeting in Belgium in 1958.

While performing at the World's Fair in Brussels, Bald Eagle's father, David Bald Eagle, suffered a severe injury. During his stay at a local hospital, David was introduced to Casey Tibbs, who was responsible for bringing performers to the American Wild West Show and Rodeo. Casey Tibbs wanted to "meet an Indian."

Tibbs invited David Bald Eagle to stay with his family for a time. It was there that David met Josee, his future wife. When he was well enough, Bald Eagle's father returned to the United States and performed with the American Wild West Show and Rodeo.

Before he left Belgium though, David told Josee that he had a cave in South Dakota waiting for her if she ever wanted to come live with him.

All Josee could think about was that cave in South Dakota, so she decided to leave Brussels behind in 1972 and start a new life with David. The couple married in 1973 and one year later they welcomed into the world their first child, Remi Bald Eagle.

A strong sense of self-determination, characteristic of Native American culture, caused friction during the civil rights era, both on and off the reservation. As a result, the Bald Eagles moved to a remote part of the reservation to shelter the family from the strife.

"We moved to a house that was built from the ground up," recalls Remi.

"It was built using old telephone poles and wood from trees. The house was so remote that we never had running water until after I had moved out years later."

His father's attempt to shelter him from the racial tensions did not work as well as planned.

"On the reservation, I was prejudiced against for being part Belgian. Off the reservation, I was prejudiced against for being Lakota," said Remi.

However, the son of Chief David Bald Eagle was able to overcome those racial issues with the support of his parents and the education that they provided him.

Remi, his brother, and father even went on to represent their Native American heritage in various movies and television productions. David was a language consultant for the film "Dances with Wolves," while Lloyd Bald Eagle, Remi's brother, had an acting role.

Remi was an extra in "Dances with Wolves" and helped with the stunts in "Geronimo" and "Lakota Woman: The Siege at Wounded Knee."

"It was a tremendous experience...and was fun to see how movies are made," he said.

Remi soon realized that there was another role he wanted to play. He decided to join the Army.

"I wanted to go into the military, but I didn't want to jump 'feet first' into the active duty experience," he said.

To "try it out," Bald Eagle first joined the South Dakota National Guard, enlisting as a bridge crew member.

"I joined in 1992, before graduating from Takini High School, as a split-op Soldier in a 'buddy platoon,' recruited from the reservations. It was an interesting experience doing my initial training with fellow natives. It really helped the transition," said Remi.

Because he enjoyed his time as a National Guard Soldier, Bald Eagle made the move into active duty military. He changed his military occupational specialty to engineer tracked vehicle crewman and spent time serving with many storied military units including the 24th Infantry Division and the 2nd Infantry Division.

Remi also served in the 577th Engineer Battalion at Ft. Leonardwood, Mo. His time there helped shape the next few years of his life, including his decision to attend the Army's Sapper School.

"I was a tanker. I knew nothing about being a light Soldier [but] I really enjoyed my experience at the school, between the people that were there with me and the learning environment," said Bald Eagle.

The next significant influence in Bald Eagle's life came from some of his fellow Sapper students, from Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division.

"They talked to me and told me about the unit and their experiences. They convinced me that becoming a member of the 82nd Airborne would be a great next step," remembered Remi.

"It was not only the encouragement I received from them, but their professionalism and motivation that made me want to be one of those guys," he said.

In 1998, Bald Eagle transferred to Fort Bragg and volunteered to become a member of the 82nd, the same unit that his father had served with during World War II.

By the end of his military service in 2001, Bald Eagle was married and a father of three children. It was time for him to choose between advancing his career in the military and being a full-time dad. Remi chose the latter.

A year later, Remi's brother, who was also in the military and being deployed to Afghanistan, asked him to watch his ranch in Texas while he was away serving his country.

"The Lakota people are nomads," said Remi. "The winds of society blow us all over the place. That's how I got from South Dakota to Texas."

While in Texas, he enrolled in classes at Trinity Valley Community College, in Athens, and then continued his studies at the University of Texas, at Dallas, earning a Bachelor's degree in Political Science.

Throughout his life, Remi's father taught him many things, most importantly, morals and ethics.

"My father is the greatest man that I have ever known," Remi said proudly.

"He is a very selfless individual. He does not say, 'I am here for my people.' He says: 'I am here for everyone.' He has always been there any time that I have needed help."

Remi's father also instilled in his son the two most important values of the Native American heritage: respect of the environment and respect of the land.

"I try to make those values not only part of my job, but also my lifestyle," said Bald Eagle.

It is those values and ethics that eventually led Bald Eagle to his civilian job. After he had graduated from college, Remi's wife was offered a job in Ohio. She accepted and the family moved to a suburb of Cleveland. While looking for employment, he found his calling, working for an environmental company.

"My company helps to clean oil spills, both big and small," he explained. "I go wherever someone with my knowledge is needed."

Remi said his job has been extremely fulfilling. He has helped clean oil spills all over the country, including one in San Francisco, Calif., when a ship hit the Bay Bridge, spilling more than 60,000 gallons of oil into the bay.

Although he loves his civilian life, six years after leaving the Army, Bald Eagle rejoined, this time with the Ohio National Guard, training as a combat engineer.

"I came back in because I wanted a chance to give back and volunteer my time. I realized that no organization has ever done more to help people out than the military," he said.

In looking back on his life, Remi has come far from his childhood at Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation. As he's grown into a man with his own family, he's also seen the earlier racial tensions against Native Americans improve over the years.

"There is no longer a stigma associated with being a Native American that I can sense. I no longer see any of the misconceptions or stereotypes that were prevalent when I was younger," he said.

Today, Remi loves it when people ask him about his heritage.

"It is a good ice-breaker. I am always willing to discuss it with people who ask me about it."

Remi is extremely proud to discuss is his father's accomplishments and what he has done for race relations.

"My father was elected as the first chief of the United Native Nations."

David Bald Eagle is an Ambassador for the United Native Nations and is involved in many other organizations. He focuses on helping Native American tribes and other tribes around the world, build relationships with their governments.

"My father helps not just the Lakota people, but any tribe that may need his help," said Bald Eagle.

Although he has represented his heritage well, both as a Soldier and a civilian, Remi Bald Eagle believes that that there are some United States citizens who don't realize that Native Americans still exist.

"I hope that the Native American people do not slip into the pages of history and no one reads the final chapter."