This past Veterans Day marked the dedication of a new veteran memorial in our nation’s capital. The National Native American Veterans Memorial was established on the grounds of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. This is the first time a tribute on a national scale has been established to recognize the distinguished service of Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Natives in every branch of the military. The Memorial was designed by Harvey Pratt, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma and U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam War Veteran.
The design is shaped as an elevated 12-foot stainless-steel circle balanced on an intricately carved stone drum. The design is simple, timeless and inclusive. It incorporates water for sacred ceremonies, benches for reflection and four steel lances with bronze feathers where veterans, family members, tribal leaders and other can tie cloths for prayers and healing. The Memorial incorporates Native music into the design. Playing on a continuous loop from the Smithsonian Folkways collection are 13 Native American veteran songs from the Ojibwe, Menominee, Blackfeet, Ho-Chunk, Kiowa and Lakota Nations. Kevin Gover (Pawnee) Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in his dedication statement said, “It is my hope that the Memorial will inspire visitors to learn more about the great legacy of Indigenous servicemen and servicewomen to this country and shed light on some of the lesser known stories of Native Americans — stories that will move and inspire visitors.”
The museum also launched its online exhibit Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces that honors the generations of Native American veterans. Tens of thousands of Native Americans have served this country in every major military conflict since its founding. They have also served in greater numbers per capita than any other ethnic group. Today more than 21,000 Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Natives serve on active duty, and more than 183,000 veterans identify as American Indian or Alaska Native.