WASHINGTON D.C. – Mvskoke veterans participated in the National Native American Veterans memorial dedication ceremony at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. More than 1,500 Native Americans from all over North and South America participated in the procession and dedication ceremony.
The memorial came into existence because congress passed legislation in 2013 approving the NMAI to create a memorial that gives “all Americans the opportunity to learn of the proud and courageous tradition of service of Native Americans in the Armed Forces of the United States.” Therefore, in 2017 the museum began an international competition for the memorial’s design.
Harvey Pratt (Cheyenne/Arapaho) designed the “Warrior’s Circle of Honor” after being unanimously selected in 2018. Pratt is a self-taught artist who finds inspiration for his artwork from Native American History, the Cheyenne people, and customs. He served in Vietnam as a US Marine in Air Rescue and Security stationed at Da Nang Air Base from 1962 to 1965. According to the NMAI website, he was inducted as a traditional Peace Chief, the Cheyenne Nation’s highest honor, and is regarded by the Cheyenne People as an exceptional Southern Cheyenne.
Walking up to the memorial, there is a wall with the seals for five military branches. The “Warrior’s Circle of Honor” is a steel circle sitting upon a stone drum, water constantly flows from the center of the drum, and a fire is lit at the bottom of the circle for ceremonies. There are also four spears that visitors can tie prayer cloths to and benches.
The National Museum of the American Indian opened the memorial on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2020. However, the memorial dedication ceremony was postponed for two years because of covid.
Despite the rainy weather, the dedication ceremony commenced with a march around the National Mall, starting in front of the museum and ending at the ceremony stage in front of the U.S. Capitol. Tribes from all over came together to march in unison, representing their people who made the sacrifice and the people who have inhabited this land for generations.
“I really enjoyed it, it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it was awesome,” said U.S. Army Veteran Jackie Miller. “It was a good feeling marching and the crowd cheering for us.”
John Herrington (Chickasaw) and Wes Studi (Cherokee Nation) emceed during the ceremony. Dignitaries from all over spoke on the significance of the memorial dedication. After the ceremony, the memorial’s fire was lit for the first time.
When asked what he thought about the memorial, Miller said, “I thought that was about time, but I thought it was a big honor for everyone, the Native Americans.”
The Mvskoke veterans also got to visit many monuments and memorials around D.C. The Vietnam Wall memorial had the most significant influence on them. Six of the nine veterans that attended served during Vietnam. The memorial brought back many memories but hopefully brought some closure as well. A couple of the veterans knew names engraved on the wall.
“It was good to see them firsthand instead of reading about them or seeing them on tv,” said Lasley McIntosh, U.S. Army veteran. “Seeing how it touched some of those veterans’ lives, how it brought back memories of their lost comrades, not only comrades, their cousins, their brothers, nephews, nieces.”
Regardless of what era someone served, there is still a connection. The sense of camaraderie is inevitable for those who have taken the oath. They are forever brothers and sisters in arms.
“To see how everyone interacted with each other, to listen to the stories they were telling about different times and places,” said McIntosh. “How some of them experienced the same things as I did, it was really interesting to see that and hear it.”
Although many of these men and women have spent time overseas, this was the first time many of them visited the United States Capitol. The gratitude for the opportunity was unquestionable.
“I’m so proud that I got picked to come out here,” said David Francis, U.S. Marine Corps veteran. “I did my best to represent our tribe.”
It has been decades since most of these men and women have worn the uniform. However, these veterans even now would put one on and defend their country.
“I’ve been praying ‘God, this is your country, not my country, but I’m here and willing to defend it if I have to,” said Francis. “I told this guy I’d go back and defend this country if I have to.”
Indigenous people have fought in every major war for over two centuries. They played essential roles leading to victories, such as the Code Talkers during World War II. Even when Natives were not considered citizens of the United States, they still stood up and defended their homeland.
About 12,000 Native Americans served during WWI, 44,000 in WWII, 10,000 in Korea, and 42,000 in Vietnam. Most of them volunteered to participate during the draft.
“A lot of our people have gone,” said Francis. “They sacrificed their lives to keep the United States of America alive and keep our people free.”
When the chance presents itself, thank a veteran for their service or listen to their story if they are willing to share. They stepped up and put everything on the line for this country and its people.
Active duty, Guard, Reserve, and Veterans can enroll with the Muscogee Nation Veterans Affairs Services Offices by calling 918-732-7739 for more information.