National Native American Veterans Memorial opens Nov. 11
WASHINGTON – With funding support from several Native tribes, including the Cherokee Nation, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian was set to officially open its National Native American Veterans Memorial to the public on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
The memorial, which stands outdoors, can be visited at all hours for free.
“The National Native American Veterans Memorial will serve as a reminder to the nation and the world of the service and sacrifice of Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian veterans,” NMAI Director Kevin Gover said in a statement. “Native Americans have always answered the call to serve, and this memorial is a fitting tribute to their patriotism and deep commitment to this country.”
Due to the pandemic, the NMAI was set to host a virtual event on Veterans Day to observe the memorial’s completion. An on-site ceremony was to be scheduled when conditions are safer. The museum was also set to put online its exhibition “Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces” on Nov. 11.
The memorial’s designer is artist Harvey Pratt, a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam and citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. It includes a stainless steel circle standing vertically atop a stone drum. NMAI officials said the memorial is intended to honor the service and sacrifice of Native Americans in every major U.S. conflict since the Revolution, and be “simple and powerful, timeless and inclusive.”
From the center of the drum, water flows outward, and the design allows the lighting of a fire at the base of the circle for ceremonial purposes. Seating is arranged in a circle around the central sculpture with openings to the north, south, east and west. Around the outside is a walkway circle called the Path of Harmony. NMAI officials said the design respects “different cultural practices regarding the appropriate direction from which to enter the central space.” There are also four vertical lances or spears where visitors may leave prayer cloths or tie. The five branches of the armed forces are presented on a nearby wall.
There is a walkway to the memorial, which is surrounded by trees to serve as a sound barrier to lessen the sound of the city’s noise and allow a peaceful atmosphere. The design is intended to create an echo of the flowing water.
S. Joe Crittenden, Cherokee Nation secretary for Veterans Affairs, who sat on the advisory committee for the monument, said he “played a very small part” and was “blessed to be able to serve on that committee.”
“It’s quite a significant monument,” Crittenden said. “It is a monument to all Natives of all tribes who served in all of America’s conflicts, and in greater numbers (per capita) than other ethnic groups. I supported the legislation submitted by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) and other sponsors to request room for the monument. It had to be approved by Congress and signed by the president (Donald Trump) to be allowed to put on those grounds.”
NMAI officials said the memorial honors all Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian veterans, as well as their families.
“The circular design suggests a sacred circle, the cycles of time and life, and the movement of the stars and planets,” the museum states. “The circle is relevant to many Native American cultures in the shape of a drum and of circles for dance, storytelling, and prayer. The memorial incorporates the elements of fire, representing strength, courage, endurance, and comfort; water, signifying purification and prayer; earth, which provides people with all they need; and the wind that will carry the prayers and memories of visitors skyward.”
The water pulsing across the surface of the drum is echoed by concentric rings in the stone of the walkways, suggesting the beat of a drum calling people to gather within the circle.
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