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National Native American Veterans Memorial opens in DC

National Native American Veterans Memorial opens in DC
© Screenshot/SmithsonianNMAI

The National Museum of the American Indian on Wednesday unveiled the National Native American Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. following a 25-year effort that included an act from Congress and a national design competition. 

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the museum held a virtual dedication ceremony for the memorial on Veterans Day that was posted on the museum’s website

The memorial, which includes a steel ring sculpture over a carved stone drum, is located on the grounds of the Smithsonian museum and honors “for the first time on a national scale the enduring and distinguished service of Native Americans in every branch of the U.S. military,” according to the museum’s website.

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"It's an article of faith in Indian country that Native Americans serve at a greater rate than basically any other group," Kevin Gover, the director of the National Museum of the American Indian and a citizen of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, told NPR

"When people bring their memories and bring their prayers to a place, they make it sacred," he said. "We wish for this to be a sacred place, not just for Native Americas, but for all Americans."

The memorial design, which was selected from more than 120 submissions, came from Harvey Pratt, a member of the Cheyenne Nation and a Vietnam War veteran. According to the American Indian museum, Pratt is highly regarded by the Cheyenne People and was inducted as a traditional Peace Chief — the Cheyenne Nation’s highest honor.

The museum also has a new online exhibition on Native Americans who have served in the Armed Forces in every major U.S. conflict since the Revolutionary War. 

Army veteran Allen Hoe, a native Hawaiian who was drafted in 1966 and then volunteered as a combat medic in Vietnam, told NPR that he hopes the new D.C. memorial will both honor veterans and serve as an inspiration for future generations of Native Americans. 

"Maybe some young Native who experiences that Memorial for the first time, in 50 years from now, he'll be the president of the United States. Who knows? Or he'll be the next great general?" Hoe said.

According to data compiled by the National Indian Council on Aging, Native Americans serve in the military at five times the national average and have the highest per-capita involvement of any population to serve in the U.S. military. 

In 2019, the Department of Defense reported that more than 24,000 of the 1.2 million active-duty service members were Native Americans, with the 2010 census identifying more than 150,000 American Indian and Alaska Native veterans.