Minnesota National Guard member celebrates Native American Heritage Month

Spc. Lula Lemieux, also as Mahnk Ska Jaing, embodies the spirit of resilience and cultural diversity within the Minnesota National Guard. At the age of 17, she enlisted as a human resource specialist because of the educational benefits the Minnesota National Guard provided. She also wanted to help educate Soldiers about their benefits.

In a close-knit organization, Lemieux appreciates the interconnectedness of the National Guard, fostering camaraderie through shared experiences across units. Her sense of belonging extends beyond military service to her rich heritage.

Her roots trace back to Tomah, Wisconsin, where she embraced the traditions of the Ho-Chunk Nation, her grandmother’s, and father’s tribe. Due to Lemieux’s ancestry, she is enrolled in her grandfather’s tribe, the Sokaogon Chippewa Community, Mole Lake Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Negotiating the complexities of dual tribal affiliations, Lemieux shares the challenges of preserving traditions in the face of differing expectations. Her personal journey reflects the expectations of her father’s tribe’s traditional customs with the more contemporary lifestyle of her grandfather’s tribe.

The name given to Lemieux, Mahnk Ska Jaing, or White Breast, represents the white spot on a bear’s chest and a connection to nature. The chief of the Bear Clan bestowed the name upon her after a spiritual journey.

“It’s a warrior name,” said Lemieux. “When I hear my name, I imagine a fierce animal standing tall, like a bear does when it stands on its hind legs.”

The white mark may symbolize purity, strength, or a unique marking that distinguishes the individual.

While specific interpretations can vary among different tribes and individuals, bears are commonly regarded as powerful and spiritual animals in Native American symbolism.

Lemieux’s decision to enlist initially met resistance from her father, who desired a more traditional path for his daughter. Over time, he has come to support her choice, highlighting the evolving dynamics between tradition and modernity within Native American families.

Navigating the dual identities of a National Guard Soldier and a woman of Native American heritage proves challenging, with societal expectations often conflicting.

As Native American Heritage Month unfolds, Lemieux hopes for more opportunities for Soldiers like her to share their stories, fostering connections among those who navigate the intersection of military service and Indigenous traditions. Her desire for dialogue and social connection speaks to the need for recognition and support within the military community.

“It’s important to share our heritage with younger generations because it is part of their history,” said Lemieux. “We also should educate others during Native American Heritage Month to increase people’s knowledge of the challenges we have faced and to better understand historical trauma.”

For Lemieux, being part of a tribe is a safety net — an anchor that complements the sense of belonging she finds in the National Guard. Her heritage is not just a historical backdrop but a living force that influences her life, providing unique legal and cultural protections that enrich her perspective.

Beyond her military commitments, Lemieux finds joy in family, video games, dining out with friends, and expressing herself through fashion. One of her major hobbies includes baking. As she bakes cupcakes, her favorite being pumpkin flavored, Lemieux shows how tradition and modern life can peacefully exist together.

By Army Capt. Kate Sulzle

Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs