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Harvey Pratt: Dreaming of a National Native American Veterans Memorial

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. 

Color photo of men standing outside on grass in military uniforms and caps holding flags

Staff photo from the 2018 National Gathering of American Indian Veterans, where Smithsonian and Library staff collaboratively hosted oral history workshops and interview recordings with Native American veterans.

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.

Screenshot of oral history interview of man in wire glasses and blue shirt.  Man is seated on red couch.

Screenshot from Harvey Pratts oral history interview at the 2018 National Gathering of American Indian Veterans. Oral History. Harvey Phillip Pratt Collection, Veterans History Project. AFC2001/001/112851.

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.

VHP’s Newest Online Exhibit: Veterans and the Arts

Today, the Veterans History Project (VHP) launches a new online exhibit to feature the stories of veteran artists. The online exhibit acts as a companion to VHP’s Veteran Art Showcase, a series of cultural events held at the Library of Congress from November 5-9, 2019. At first glance, artistic expression might seem an unlikely subject […]

Veterans Art Showcase

Whether crafting, performing, cooking, writing, or painting, art has the dynamic power to alleviate stress, build connections, and even stimulate recovery. For veterans and active duty service-members, art affords an outlet through which they can articulate – and process – what they experienced during their service. From November 5-9th, the Library of Congress Veterans History […]

From Behind the Lines to Between the Lines: War Poems and Beyond

The following is a blog post in honor of National Poetry Month. While walking the halls of the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, it is not difficult to be inspired by the Lyric Poetry Hall.  I have often wondered what artists and poets have ventured through these halls for the past 122 years. Were […]