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March/April 2023 -   -  


The In-Person Dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial

On November 28, 1989, Congress passed the National Museum of the American Indian Act, a landmark piece of legislation that authorized the creation of a museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as “a living memorial to Native Americans and their traditions.” Five years later in 1994, and still a full decade before the museum opened, Congress approved another notable piece of legislation: The Native Veterans Memorial Establishment Act, calling for the construction of a National Native American Veterans Memorial as part of the museum.

The National Museum of the American Indian was dedicated in 2004, fifteen years after Congress authorized it — a memorable occasion witnessed by some 20,000 American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. It took longer for the National Native American Veterans Memorial to come to fruition, however, a delay caused primarily by a congressional stipulation that no federal funds be used for the memorial and that only the National Congress of American Indians (not the museum) could raise the money. The dream of a memorial would lay largely dormant until 2012, when Congress amended the legislation to allow the museum to raise funds.

Following this change, momentum for the memorial began to build, and in 2017 — after raising some $15 million for the memorial’s construction and dedication — the Museum issued an open call for design submissions. The goal was to create a monument to honor Native Americans who served the nation in uniform from the Revolutionary War to the wars of the 21st century — including, of course, the Vietnam War.

The winning design was chosen from 120 submissions. Called the Warriors’ Circle of Honor, it is the work of the multimedia artist Harvey Pratt of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, a Vietnam War veteran.

Pratt’s 12-foot-tall, stainless-steel circle, balanced on a carved stone drum, was installed outside the museum in November 2020, but the official dedication ceremonies did not take place because of the pandemic. That situation changed on Veterans Day weekend 2022, when some 1,700 Native veterans and active-duty service members from across the country took part in three days of ceremonies and other events in Washington D.C. The highlights were a Native veterans procession and the dedication ceremony on Veterans Day in front of the U.S. Capitol.

Harvey Pratt — who put in a 1963-64 Vietnam War tour of duty with the Marines’ 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion at Da Nang Airbase working in air rescue and base security — says the circle represents “the hole in the sky where the Creator lives.” Since it was put in place in 2020, visitors have tied strips of cloth for prayers and healing, a Native American tradition, on four lances around the edges of the memorial. Pratt says the memorial is meant to be a place of “gathering, remembrance, healing, and reflection.”

Allen Hoe, a Native Hawaiian and VVA life member who served as an Army combat medic in the Vietnam War, was among those on hand for the dedication.

“Just like The Wall, getting this memorial built took a lot of time, energy, and effort,” Hoe, a member of the memorial’s 30-person Advisory Committee, said, describing the experience of being in Washington for the dedication as “incredible.”

“I was totally blown away by the number of Native American veterans who came from all over the country, including a huge number of women veterans” to witness the dedication of “this incredible work of art.” The memorial, he said, “gave me a great appreciation for the role that Native American warriors have played” in the nation’s armed forces, “and the breadth of the involvement of their service.”

The nation and its citizens, he said, “owe a huge debt of gratitude to Indigenous men and women who have for decades—even centuries—helped to preserve this country.”

The memorial is open 24 hours a day, every day, outside the National Museum of the American Indian. The museum also features a new online version of its 2020-21 exhibition Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces, available at https://americanindian.si.edu/why-we-serve/




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