Native American Veterans Memorial coming to Washington

A permanent tribute to Native American military veterans will soon take its place in Washington, a city known for memorials to those who have played important roles in U.S. history.

Native Americans have served in each of America’s military conflicts since the Revolutionary War, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. The National Native American Veterans Memorial, now under construction, will be situated on museum grounds on the National Mall. It is expected to be unveiled at the end of 2020.

Artist and military veteran Harvey Pratt, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, submitted the winning design for the memorial. His concept, titled Warriors’ Circle of Honor, was chosen from among 120 submissions.

The new memorial will feature a huge stainless steel circle mounted on an intricately carved stone drum, with a flame ignited at the circle’s base on ceremonial occasions. The circle — a fixture in Native American storytelling — suggests the cycle of life and death, and the continuity of all things.

Artist's rendering of new memorial (Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian)
This rendering of Harvey Pratt’s “Warriors’ Circle of Honor” design offers a sneak preview of what the National Native American Veterans Memorial will look like at dusk, with visitors present. (Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian)

Pratt’s vision also incorporates four arcing benches facing the circle sculpture, where visitors can gather to share stories of their loved ones’ military experiences (or their own).

The benches will be surrounded by a red brick walkway, with four symmetrically spaced lances jutting skyward. Lances are a traditional emblem of military courage, but these symbolic weapons will serve an additional purpose: Visitors are invited to tie prayer cloths to them.

As for the stone drum that supports the steel circle, it’s meant to convey the constant pulse of Native American spirit and sacrifice across the breadth of U.S. history.

The National Museum of the American Indian estimates some 140,000 Native American veterans are alive today, plus about 31,000 Native Americans and Native Alaskans now serving in the U.S. military.

These men and women are “perfectly aware” that they are serving a country that has not always kept its commitment to Indians, “and yet they chose — and are still choosing — to serve,” says the museum’s director, Kevin Gover (a member of Oklahoma’s Pawnee tribe). “This reflects a very deep kind of patriotism. I can think of no finer example of service to the United States and the promise it holds.”