American Indian Color Guard

Tribal Nation Flag Protocol

DrillMasterDrillCenter News Leave a Comment

I received messages over the years that are perfect to help others understand this subject that many just don’t want to deal with. I’m dealing.

American Indian color guard with eagle feather staffs

The photo above shows a tribal color guard and in front of the team are the bearers of Eagle Feather Staffs. These staffs are considered to be at the same level as a national flag.

Equipment and Standards

All veteran teams should follow at least the Army Training Circular and use only light ash wood guidon staffs with the flat, silver Army spearhead. The staffs can be 8′ long and have 3’x4′ flags attached. You should also follow the flag protocols as far as flag positions. The POW is not authorized to be carried except as the personal color at the funeral of a former POW.

Massed Color Guards

Be mindful of the flags you carry. Foreign national, state, territory, and service departmental colors are carried in the first row only.

The Messages

Good morning. My question lies with the correct order of precedence when carrying the flag of an American Indian nation flag in company with the US and state flags. I assume it is the US, the Indian nation, then state, but I am drawing a blank trying to find a primary source reference that discusses this. I am going to run a color guard next month in the Nansemond Indian Nation reservation and would like to make sure I get this correct.

The Reply

This is an excellent question, sir. There is some controversy over the issue, but I see it as cut and dry, honestly. Here are my thoughts:

According to the Supreme Court, an American Indian Reservation is a SOVEREIGN NATION. On reservation soil then the tribal flag takes precedence over the American flag, all flags.  The color guard would look like this: Right Rifle Guard, Tribal Flag Bearer, US Flag Bearer, (Foreign National Flag Bearer,) State Bearer, Left Rifle Guard. If the color guard were to march in a local parade off of the reservation, then the US and tribal colors would switch.

I see it as the exact same situation where we in the military serve overseas. This is also a subject that hardly anyone wants to touch. When we present the colors on the grounds of a US military cemetery, military base, consulate, embassy, etc., the American flag is carried to the far right. The host nation flag is then next on the left and the service organizational is third. After the ceremony, if there is a parade downtown, the colors switch places*.

*This is for all services. The Army, Air Force, and Space Force teams always march national flags in one formation while the others can form a separate three-man team for the foreign national, tribal, or US territory flag.

Again, some people do not support my thoughts here, wanting the US to always be on the marching right. I can understand that, but think it comes from a lack of situational understanding. Essentially, you can form your color guard either way on tribal land and still be correct.

It’s about time, actually well passed time, that guidance was set at both the federal and state level regarding tribal lands and flag protocol.

Please make sure the flags are in correct order and not backwards as shown here

There’s More

I had a great question from a Marine friend of mine. If you are a friend of mine of Facebook it’s possible that you saw the discussion since it was on my personal page, but I’d like to present it here with all the info I learned after doing some research.

Question 1: A Color Guard wants to march in and come to the center of the arena and while marking time, rotate 90 degrees counter-clockwise about the center of the flag line so that they are now facing the audience and halt… What is the command to rotate? I would assume that the color guard is in a “Forward March” mode to the center, “Mark Time” and then the rotation command is? And what movement would you recommend to exit the arena?

Answer: No need to call the Mark Time (you can call it if it’s easier for the team, but shouldn’t be an accepted technique). “Forward March” and the team marches to where they need to rotate at that rotation point (and you explained the rotation well- it’s on the center of the team, not an end) the command is “Left Turn, March” the team takes one more right step and then on the next left begins marking time while the line is rotated to the left. Same thing if the team needs to rotate to the right. It take about 8 steps to rotate 90-degrees and the American flag bearer (the NCO in charge of colors- the one calling commands), around the 8th step, would then call “Colors Halt” on two left steps or, if the team needs to move forward in the new direction, he would call “Forward March” and then halt. “Present Arms” is next, and then back to right shoulder (you probably say “Carry Colors”- not a big deal). If you need to rotate another 90-degrees to go back the way you came, the US flag bearer calls, “Left Wheel, March” and the team marks time while rotating. Again, around the 8th step, the command would be “Forward March” and the team steps off to head back. There are a couple of different ways to exit the arena and the easiest to explain would be to have the team halt before they enter the doorway or low clearance area, order arms and then fall out. If they can do all of that out of site of the audience- all the better.

Question 2: Thanks… Our team has been asked to present the colors each night of a three day rodeo. We’re planning for a 5 member team: United States, Salish-Kootenai Nation, Canada and two rifle bearers.

I know that I have seen it both ways and probably makes little difference, but with the rifle bearers at “Shoulder Arms” rifles to the outside or both at “Right Shoulder Arms”… Is there a preference or a reason behind having them on the outside?

Answer: Outside shoulder- standard for everyone except the Army. When calling Carry Colors, the left rifle guard executes Left Shoulder. Make sure the colors are in this order: US, Canada, and then Salish-Kootenai. The pivot point for the rotation will be the Salish-Kootenai flag bearer- he won’t move, just rotate in place while marking time.

Question 3: Okay, but that brings up another question… We are on a reservation, of which the Salish-Kootenai is the resident Native American Tribe. They are considered a Sovereign Nation. With that in mind, would they be considered closer to home more than Canada in terms of precedence or because outside of the US they would be ranked alphabetically?

Answer: Here is what I found from here: “Tribal flags and Eagle feather staff are given the same respect as the National flag. It is a fact that Tribal sovereignty and the ruling of the US Supreme court declares Indian reservations are NOT under state jurisdiction.” This does not help your situation completely, but gives us some insight. The flag order should be Salish-Kootenai, US, and Canada since the ceremony will be held on a reservation in the US.

Here is a page I found with a great listing of tribal colors and a book on all of the flags plus their histories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *