Smithsonian opens memorial honoring Native veterans

Media Credit: Ari Golub | Staff Photographer

Songs from six American Indian tribes play on a loop at the memorial, which is free to visit and open 24 hours a day.

Students can now visit a new memorial dedicated to Native American veterans.

The National Native American Veterans Memorial opened Wednesday on the National Mall, just in front of the National Museum of the American Indian. The memorial honors the military service of Indigenous people, marking a sacred space for people to come and pray.

“Though we celebrate those who dedicate themselves to defending our nation, many Americans are unaware of the exceptional service performed by American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native veterans,” the National Museum of the American Indian website states.

About 19 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives have served in the military since 9/11 – the most of any other racial or ethnic group in the country, according to Native News Online.

The memorial was established by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian through a charge given by Congress in 2013, and all funding came from individuals, organizations and native nations. 

The memorial consists of an elevated steel circle atop a carved stone drum. It also incorporates water to be used for “sacred ceremonies” and lances where visitors can tie cloths for “prayers and healing.”

“The memorial creates an interactive yet intimate space for gathering, remembrance, reflection and healing,” the memorial website states. “It welcomes and honors indigenous veterans and their families and educates the public about their extraordinary contributions.”

The memorial was designed by Harvey Pratt, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma and a Southern Cheyenne peace chief, according to the website. Pratt named his design the “Warriors’ Circle of Honor,” and it was selected unanimously by a group of Native and non-Native jurors.  

Thirteen Native American veteran songs play on a continuous loop in the memorial, according to the website. These songs come from the Ojibwe, Menominee, Blackfeet, Ho-Chunk, Kiowa and Lakota nations. 

“It is a symbol of the country finally giving its ‘thank you’ to the Native American people that have contributed all the way from the Revolutionary War to the present and their contributions to this country,” Gregorio Kishketon, a 54-year-old Marine Corps veteran who lives in D.C. and is an elder of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma, told DCist.

The memorial aims to serve as an “enduring” tribute and educational resource for the thousands of people who visit the District, according to a newsletter from the Veterans Affairs Office of Tribal Government Relations.

In conjunction with the memorial, the National Museum of the American Indian released an online exhibition titled “Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces.” Viewers can tune in to the exhibit to learn more about the history of Indigenous people in the armed forces since the American Revolution, as well as the many reasons why Native people have served in the military over the years. 

The National Native American Veterans Memorial is free to visit and open 24 hours a day, though timed-entry passes are required to visit the National Museum of the American Indian. Anyone interested can also sign up via an online form to receive news and updates about the memorial.

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