In Their Own Voices

In Their Own Voices: Planning the National Native American Veterans Memorial

The memorial design selection is to be announced in the summer of 2018. Although the jury must currently remain unnamed, it is a distinguished group of experts that includes American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and non-Native artists, architects and cultural professionals.

In addition to the design competition, the Memorial project features two key outreach components: a collaboration with the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress and a national traveling exhibition. The goal of the unique collaboration between these two major Washington, D.C., institutions is to collect, preserve and make accessible the oral histories of Native veterans. A similar effort of national scope, Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces is now circulating (at no charge) to appropriate facilities across the country to help reach audiences where they live and provide this often unknown history. The Museum’s outreach will continue with an array of film programs, talks and symposia throughout the memorial’s design and construction phases. To learn more, visit nmai.si.edu/NNAVM.

Our just completed first phase included 35 consultations in 16 states and the District of Columbia (see map, facing page). The goal was to visit at least once each of the 12 geographic regions of the country as identified by the National Congress of American Indians and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. We wanted to reach as many communities and speak with as many Native veterans and tribal leaders as possible. We visited several regions more than once. At every gathering, we were met with warmth, gratitude and deep appreciation as the veterans learned, many for the first time, that the United States was at last recognizing their patriotism and bravery.

Members of the esteemed Memorial advisory committee also attended many of the consultations, including co-chairs Jefferson Keel, Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation and former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne).

Sen. Campbell echoed the sentiments of most of the Native veterans we met: “Yes, I am American and I am Indian and I am a vet. I believe I was compelled to serve to honor the warrior tradition which is inherent to most Native American societies – the pillars of strength, honor, pride, devotion and wisdom.”

Rebecca Head Trautmann is project coordinator for the Museum’s National Native American Veterans Memorial Project and a researcher and curator of contemporary art. Dr. Herman Viola serves as the project’s senior advisor and is curator emeritus at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.