Work is underway on a national memorial honoring the military service of Native Americans.
It took 25 years, but crews finally broke ground on the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Saturday. Congress passed legislation to build the monument in 1994, but some issue with location and funding held up the process.
Out of 120 artists the Smithsonian chose Oklahoma native Harvey Pratt to design the memorial. He's a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, a Cheyenne Peace Chief, a Vietnam veteran and spent 50 years working as an OSBI forensic artist. Pratt is originally from El Reno but now lives in Guthrie.
The Smithsonian says Pratt's design creates a special place for all indigenous people to go for remembrance.
The design incorporates water for sacred ceremonies, benches for gathering and reflection and four lances where veterans, family members, tribal leaders, and others can tie cloths for prayer and healing.
"I wanted it to represent Native American people and the warrior's sacred circle and that's what I kind of call this-- warrior's sacred circle and the sacred fire that we honor and pay attention to," Pratt told the Smithsonian which pitching his design. “It’s based on circles, Native people believe in circles, the continuation of life and the cycles of life and the plants and everything is a circle.”
The design is elevated, stainless steel circle -- balanced on a carved stone drum.
“I did an outer circle. I put the military medallions on the outside of the walls, there are four sections of this outer wall,” Pratt said.
The $15-million memorial is being built on the grounds of National Museum of the American Indian.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, American Indians served in the military at a higher rate than any other ethnic group.
“I don’t think the general public is really aware of that, and I think people are often surprised,” said Rebecca Trautman, curator of the National Museum of the American Indian. “We’re hoping the memorial and the ongoing programming we plan to do around it will help to raise that awareness.”
The museum is planning a dedication ceremony for the new memorial on Veterans Day in 2020.