Home / World News / Native American veterans will be honored with memorial on National Mall – The Denver Post

Native American veterans will be honored with memorial on National Mall – The Denver Post

WASHINGTON – The Mall is studded with monuments to iconic people and events, from presidents to wars to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Later this month, finalists will be announced for a memorial to a group with less name recognition: Native American veterans.

In the 20th century, Native Americans served in the United States military at a higher per capita rate than any other ethnic group, and their service stretches back to the Revolutionary War. This might sound surprising, given their fraught history with the U.S. government. Why would so many choose to fight and sacrifice for a country that has often treated native tribes so badly?

The answer lies in the way many see their patriotism, as inextricably connected with the land itself, said Rebecca Trautmann, project curator of the National Native American Veterans Memorial at the National Museum of the American Indian, upon whose land the memorial will be built.

“They have described an inherited responsibility to protect their homeland, their families, their communities and their traditional way of life,” she said.

Or as Debra Kay Mooney, a Choctaw who is a veteran of the Iraq War, put it: “Our ancestors are the very groundwork of the United States because we died here first. It’s our ancestors’ bones and marrow that has degraded into the ground that is actually in the roots and the tops of the tallest trees. . . . We needed to protect our ancestors’ bones.”

While Congress approved the erection of the memorial in 1994, it did not authorize fundraising for it until 2013. (It is scheduled to be unveiled on Veterans Day in 2020). Museum staff and members of an advisory committee traveled around the country, meeting with tribal leaders and veterans, and came back with a few directives: Be inclusive of all tribes and traditions; don’t leave out women; remember the sacrifices of family members; and include an element of spirituality.

The design must be broad enough to encompass the vast array of tribes (567 are federally recognized) yet specific enough that veterans and their families will recognize themselves and their stories.

That will not be easy for the panel of experts tasked with selecting the design. For example, some tribes’ history of service goes back longer than others; to some, horses were integral, while others never rode them.

“What an intriguing memorial this will ultimately be if it is able to encompass for the casual observer and for Native Americans the oddities of where we stand today as Native Americans in the 21st century,” said Kevin Brown, chairman of the Mohegan tribe, who along with Mooney is on the advisory committee. “You have native scouts who were on both sides in the Indian Wars, you have the first Native American to die in the defense of what would be called the U.S.A., in the Revolutionary War,” a relative of Brown.

The placement of the memorial is significant, said Jefferson Keel, lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation, who is co-chair of the committee. “Anyone who goes out of the Capitol, down those steps, that will be the first thing they see. To me, that’s exciting.”

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