The following is a guest blog post by liaison specialist Owen Rogers about the November 11, 2020 completion and programing surrounding the National Native American Veterans Memorial.
American Indians and Alaska Natives comprise less than 1% of the United States population. They boast a higher percentage of veterans than any other ethnicity and a tradition of military service that has increased since the United States ended the military draft in 1973. This year, the proud and courageous tradition of military service among Native Americans will be nationally recognized – for the first time.
On Veterans Day 2020, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian will dedicate the National Native American Veterans Memorial. The “Warrior’s Circle of Honor” unifies the cycle of life, death, and military service shared by Native Americans. Selected from more than 120 submissions, Harvey Pratt’s design fomented in a dream: a memorial that represents the path of life; and the end of a journey. Through the collaboration of the National Museum of the American Indian and the Veterans History Project, Pratt shared his journey with the Library of Congress.
Harvey Pratt, a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War and Cheyenne-Arapaho artist, is also the nephew of a Marine Corps World War II veteran and the son of a traditional storyteller. We met at the 2018 National Gathering of American Indian Veterans, the largest annual meeting of indigenous veterans in the United States. This collective, where veterans from all tribes, nations, wars, and branches of service are welcome, reflects the intentions of the National Native American Veterans Memorial. The design affords veterans the opportunity to gather, remember, reflect and heal. In the spirit of the forthcoming memorial, Smithsonian and Library staff held oral history workshop and recording opportunities for attending veterans. The Veterans History Project holds 399 indigenous veterans’ collections, including World War II Navajo “Code Talkers” and veterans from every war collected by the Project.
During his oral history recording, Pratt reflected on the origins of his military art. As a young Marine, his first military art adorned the guard barracks of “Hughes’ Hellions.” After he separated from the Marine Corps, his forensic art has helped recover missing children and heal victims of violence. A listener turned storyteller, Pratt feels
I’m fortunate that I listened – not always – but I listened to the elders. I wish I had learned and I wish that I’d asked more questions.
The Veterans History Project is listening – and we want you to share your story.