An Oklahoma artist, Oklahoma-based architects and local sheet metal workers were selected for a Smithsonian Museum project to honor Native American military veterans.
It’s more than a circle of thousands of pounds of stainless steel. It's a dream come true for Oklahoma indigenous artist and Marine veteran Harvey Pratt.
“When they asked me to do this, I said let me dream about it,” Pratt said. “It all came to me, all in one morning. Almost everything came together that fast. I made a drawing of it on a tablet paper and my looked at it and said, ‘that’s pretty good Harvey.’”
Pratt's creation is called the "Warrior's Circle."
“The warrior’s circle of honor,” Pratt said. “It represents the connection of everything, human beings, plants, the earth, the heavens, the skies.”
It's the centerpiece to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian's newest outdoor project.
“The Smithsonian, you can’t really go any bigger than that when you talk about monuments,” Contractor Jim Brown said.
Visitors will walk along a path leading to a sacred inner circle, a shape that is meaningful in Indigenous culture and brings together 573 federally recognized tribes.
“When people go in there, they can be healed. They can be satisfied. They can pray for their family, their relatives,” Pratt said. “I think it will become a very powerful place.”
Pratt said his idea went from paper to reality with the help of fellow Oklahomans, and two transplant Oklahomans, who have created another powerful, meaningful place.
“What they really looked to us for was to help them find a way to anchor this into the landscape, in the ground of the museum where it was slated to go and to turn that into a place,” Architect Torrey Butzer said.
The same way Butzer and her husband Hans did when they co-designed the Oklahoma City National Memorial next to the museum. They said much like the memorial, they wanted the Smithsonian project to be more than names on a wall.
“It becomes something that can be appreciated by the visitor,” Butzer said. “They may not even notice it, but they may feel it. They may feel that this is all harmonious.”
It’s a special place for Native Americans, made by their own. The countless hours that went into shaping the steel was all done by Native hands in local steel shops.
“The fabrication, the welding, the grinding, the polishing and finishing. It was several thousand [people],” contractor Henry Adams said.
Their work now stands in our Nation's capital as a reminder of a culture that celebrates its warriors and survival. Due to COVID-19, the Smithsonian hosted a virtual dedication of the monument on Veteran’s Day. The plan is to hold an in-person dedication next year.
“We are still here among on this land,” Pratt said. “This is Indian Country. It will always be Indian Country.”