Sokaogon Chippewa Community News

New Memorial Honors the Military Service of Native Americans

By Kevin Gover, Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, for the Washington Post
Two weeks ago, the National Native American Veterans Memorial opened on the grounds of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, honoring a long tradition of service by Native American men and women. American Indians have served in every major U.S. military conflict since the Revolutionary War, often at one of the highest rates per capita of any ethnic group.
Many may find this record of service astonishing, given the painful history of violence, marginalization and injustice Native Americans have endured. Or, in the words of Marine Corps veteran, Kim Brooks (Koyukon Athabascan), “They stole our languages, healing practices, ceremonies, cultural traditions and our land. This is the one thing that they couldn’t take away from us.”
In 2013, Congress authorized the National Museum of the American Indian to create a memorial that would give “all Americans the opportunity to learn of the proud and courageous tradition of service of Native Americans in the Armed Forces.”
Designed by Harvey Pratt (Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma), a multimedia artist and Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, the memorial features a large steel circle resting on a carved stone drum. It incorporates water, signifying purification, prayer and cleansing; a flame that will be lit for ceremonial occasions and that represents strength, courage, endurance and comfort; benches for gatherings; and four lances where veterans, family members, tribal leaders and others can tie cloths for prayers and healing. Another distinguishing feature: 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.
The memorial brings long overdue recognition to the tens of thousands of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians who have served in peace and war for two and a half centuries. Today, more than 21,000 Native men and women are on active duty, and more than 183,000 veterans identify as American Indian or Alaska Native.