Simple and powerful … timeless and inclusive. This is the description for the Native American Veterans Memorial at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC The memorial opened to the public in November 2020 and was designed by Harvey Pratt, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes and a Southern Cheyenne Peace chief. Pratt is a Vietnam Marine Corps veteran. A stainless steel circle sits on a carved stone drum surrounded by benches. Pratt’s design includes elements of fire, water, air and earth as well as four lances that visitors can use to tie cloths for prayer and healing, remembrance and reflection.
November is American Indian Heritage Month with the opportunity to learn and honor, as does this memorial, American Indians, Alaskan natives, and Indigenous Hawaiians who served in the United States military. These veterans defended our country for centuries, and the Native Americans serve five times the national average in the United States armed forces. According to the USO and VeteranAid websites, General Ely S. Parker, a member of the Seneca Nation, served as Military Secretary to General Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War. Parker would later write the final draft of the Confederate surrender terms. Although not recognized as American citizens, an estimated 12,000 Native Americans served in World War I. When the total Native American population was less than 350,000, an estimated 44,000 served in World War II (nearly 800 were women) and 42,000 served in the Vietnam War – 90% of them volunteers. In recent years, statistics show that nearly 20% of all Native American military personnel are women, compared to about 15% of the other races.
And who hasn’t heard of the Navajo Code Talkers? Their indigenous unwritten language excelled in creating a special code to transmit sensitive information during World War II. Twenty-nine men of the Navajo Marine Corps began the operation, and by the end of the war, about 400 spokesmen for the Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Lakota, Meskwaki, and Comanche tribes were translating encrypted messages. Japanese forces never broke the Navajo Code.
For local veterans, as for so many others, the service of their country does not end with the handover of their DD 214. Dr. Ricky Robinson, an Army veteran and a member of the Cherokee Nation and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians of Oklahoma, was a former executive director of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe of Fort Hall, Idaho. He was also the director of the Cherokee Nation Veterans Affairs Center upon retirement from the Bureau of Indian Affairs – Office of Indian Education. Dr. Following a tradition of service much like his uncles and grandfather, Robinson continues to work to serve veterans. As a former manager of the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Dr. Robinson: “A lot of veterans just want to come in and talk about something, maybe some experiences they have had. You can do that here … we will help you.” Make an appointment with a licensed tribe counselor or through Veterans Affairs. “
The GI Bill was a benefit that helped John Daugherty, Air Force veteran and Cherokee, Shawnee, and Delaware tribal member. After four years as an administrative clerk, mainly in Spain, John studied business administration and Indian social sciences. He worked in various roles for Indian Health Services and became Area Director of Indian Services for the state of Oklahoma. âI lived with my grandmother, who only spoke Shawnee. My mother was thoroughbred Shawnee and Delaware. I was a singer at tribal ceremonies, responsible for maintaining drums and had the pleasure and honor of mentoring young people and helping them with their singing encourage.” . “
S. Joe Crittenden, a Cherokee tribe and Navy veteran, has no shortage of warrior spirit. After touring Guam and on the USS Princeton, Joe returned to work for the tribe in many areas. He served as the Cherokee Nation’s deputy chief, participated in several warrior (honor) flights, and worked with the Department of Veteran Affairs to enable veterans who would normally use VA health facilities to use tribal health centers for routine care. Joe also signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to secure a housing program for homeless Native American veterans. âIt blesses my heart. We’re talking about sacrifices veterans have made over the centuries … I will do whatever I can to improve what is already successful in our tribe. “Joe is proud of his service, he” gave me direction, taught me respect and to obey orders. I believe we see this land as something that was created to use, maintain and defend. ” Joe served on the Advisory Committee of the National Native American Veterans Memorial. From 2015 through the summer of 2017, the committee held many consultations bringing together tribal leaders, indigenous veterans, and parishioners across the country to define a common vision and set of design principles. Joe is now the Cherokee Nation Secretary of Veterans Affairs in Tahlequah, Okla.
Challenges aside, Native American people have risen to serve the United States with dignity and distinction. They have dedicated their lives to protecting this land and helping veterans. They have mixed harmony and wild spirit, leaving a legacy of tribal pride.
We will forever be known by the traces we leave behind. – Dakota
For more information and the National Native American Veterans Memorial’s online exhibits, visit americanindian.si.edu/nnavm