Washington, D.C. is celebrating this Veterans Day with a new memorial on the National Mall. The National Native American Veterans Memorial was unveiled this morning in a virtual presentation in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Located by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the memorial is a simple stainless steel circle balancing on a carved stone drum, and also features a flame that will be lit on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and other occasions that honor Native veterans. Surrounding the sculpture is a rounded wall with five military seals.
The design, called Warriors’ Circle of Honor, was chosen back in 2018 from Harvey Pratt of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma. The self-taught artist is also a veteran, having served as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam from 1962 to 1965 at Da Nang Air Base, according to the museum’s site.
“Circles are so important to Native people,” Pratt told The Oklahoman. “We're a people that live in circles: We have hogans and tipis and kivas and dance grounds.”
Native Americans have long had a commitment to serving the country. “These veterans are perfectly aware that they are serving a country that had not kept its commitments to Native people, and yet they chose — and are still choosing — to serve,” Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian director Kevin Grover, a citizen of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, told NPR. “This reflects a very deep kind of patriotism. I can think of no finer example of service to the United States and the promise it holds.”
Indeed, 156,515 veterans identified as American Indian or Alaska Native in the 2010 census — and they continue to serve in the Armed Forces at a rate of five times more than the national average, according to the government in 2018, and have served in every major conflict in the last two centuries.
“It's an article of faith in Indian country that Native Americans serve at a greater rate than basically any other group,” Grover told NPR.
He hopes that the memorial will become a place to honor all those who have served the country. “When people bring their memories and bring their prayers to a place, they make it sacred. We wish for this to be a sacred place, not just for Native Americas, but for all Americans,” he said.
Ground broke on the project on Sept. 21, 2019, but the idea had long been in the works, even before Congress passed legislation for it in 2013, according to the museum’s site. However, no federal funding was received, so the budget came from donations and the Native Nations.
“It’s amazing to think about my design being on the National Mall with the other 11 or 12 national monuments,” Pratt told WAMU, while adding to NPR: “I want it to be a place of healing and comfort, and a place that's hopefully going to be built on love.”
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