WASHINGTON, D.C. — To hear artist Harvey Pratt describe the new memorial in the National Mall is to understand just how much it means to him and others.
“Almost all tribes use sacred fire and water and they use the earth and air,” he said. “I thought, ‘you know, that’s what I’ll use – those elements.'”
Pratt designed the newest memorial in Washington, D.C. – the National Native American Veterans Memorial. He faced an enormous task.
“I thought, ‘How do you connect 573 federally-recognized tribes, plus the state-recognized tribes – without being specific to a certain tribe or region?’” he said.
Nestled beside the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, it is a place meant for reflection and remembrance.
“Native people, tribal people, have always respected their veterans,” Pratt said. “Almost every tribe has a memorial to their veterans.”
Yet, there’s never been a national one in such a prominent place until now.
“We held 35 consultations across the country and met with about 1,200 people because we really wanted to get a sense of what they wanted to see in the memorial, what the experience of visiting it should be,” said The Smithsonian’s Rebecca Trautmann, who is the memorial’s curator.
Congress first authorized its construction in 1994. However, money needed to be raised in order to make it happen; the construction was funded by private donations.
“Native people have been serving in great numbers and with great dedication from the time of the Revolutionary War, up to the present,” Trautmann said, “and they continue to serve in in large numbers.”
That includes Harvey Pratt, who is a Cheyenne-Arapaho, a Cheyenne Peace Chief and a veteran who served in Vietnam.
“I just want people to know – we’re still here. Native people are still here and when Native people come to the memorial and do their ceremonies, that we’re going to educate non-Native people,” Pratt said. “They’ll see us doing things, they’ll ask questions and they’ll come to know us a little better.”
The memorial is now providing a new way for others to get to know a group of American veterans, who now have a place where their sacrifice is recognized.