The Voice of our Native Veterans
Visitors at the Fourth Annual National Gathering of American Indian Veterans

Visitors at the Fourth Annual National Gathering of American Indian Veterans in Lisle, Ill., July 2018. Photo by NMAI staff.

Visitors at the Fourth Annual National Gathering of American Indian Veterans in Lisle, Ill., July 2018. Photo by NMAI staff.

Grand Entry of Native American veterans at the Fourth Annual National Gathering of American Indian Veterans

Grand Entry of Native American veterans at the Fourth Annual National Gathering of American Indian Veterans. Photo by NMAI staff.

Grand Entry of Native American veterans at the Fourth Annual National Gathering of American Indian Veterans. Photo by NMAI staff.

Harvey Pratt and wife Gina with Herman Viola and wife Susan

National Native American Veterans Memorial designer and Vietnam veteran Harvey Pratt (Cheyenne/Arapaho), second to left, with his wife Gina and NMAI curatorial consultant Herman Viola and his wife, Susan. Photo by NMAI staff.

National Native American Veterans Memorial designer and Vietnam veteran Harvey Pratt (Cheyenne/Arapaho), second to left, with his wife Gina and NMAI curatorial consultant Herman Viola and his wife, Susan. Photo by NMAI staff.

Veterans posing together

L-R: Veterans Clarence J. Tougaw (Puyallup), Rodney A. Sisson (Puyallup) and Michael Sisson (Puyallup). Photo by NMAI staff.

L-R: Veterans Clarence J. Tougaw (Puyallup), Rodney A. Sisson (Puyallup) and Michael Sisson (Puyallup). Photo by NMAI staff.

Eagle staffs

Eagle staffs and colors posted after Grand Entry. Photo by NMAI Staff.

Eagle staffs and colors posted after Grand Entry. Photo by NMAI Staff.

Eagle staffs and colors posted after Grand Entry

Eagle staffs and colors posted after Grand Entry. Photo by NMAI Staff.

Eagle staffs and colors posted after Grand Entry. Photo by NMAI Staff.

Native veteran Angel Salas (Lakota)

Native veteran Angel Salas (Lakota). Photo by NMAI staff.

Native veteran Angel Salas (Lakota). Photo by NMAI staff.

Owen Rogers interviewing Korean veteran Saginaw Grant

Library of Congress staff Owen Rogers interviews Korean veteran Saginaw Grant (Sac and Fox, Iowa and Otoe-Missouria Nations). Photo by NMAI staff.

Library of Congress staff Owen Rogers interviews Korean veteran Saginaw Grant (Sac and Fox, Iowa and Otoe-Missouria Nations). Photo by NMAI staff.

Preserving the stories of Native veterans is the result of a unique collaboration between NMAI and the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project (VHP), graciously supported by Bank of America. The Veterans History Project collects, preserves and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from them and better understand the realities of war; the Congressional mandate was signed into law in 2000. In addition to audio- and video-recorded interviews, the VHP accepts memoirs and collections of original photographs, letters, diaries, maps and other historical documents from World War I through current conflicts.

Part outreach, part training and part education, this collaborative effort will bring together staff and volunteers from both institutions at eight sites across the United States throughout the next two years. Each site visit will be as diverse as the Native veterans themselves – some will be training workshops to enable Native communities to conduct their own oral histories with their veterans. Some will be one-on-one interviews with Native veterans and still others are envisioned as a combination of interviews and workshops.

Since the spring of 2017, the team has visited four tribal colleges in North and South Dakota, two Great Lakes area inter-tribal Veterans festivals near Chicago in Lisle, Ill., a Northeast Arizona Veterans summit on the White Mountain Apache reservation in Pinetop, Ariz., and the Alaskan Federation of Natives annual conference in Anchorage, Alaska. In addition to collaborating with the Library of Congress, NMAI is actively working with the Veterans Administration (VA) Office of Tribal Government Relations to join forces with local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. The gathering in Arizona, sponsored by the VA’s tribal relations office, drew a large audience of more than 200 White Mountain Apache, Diné, Hopi, Pueblo and Tohono O’odham veterans and their family members. This year, the team traveled to the Oklahoma State University Oral History Center to participate in a workshop training sponsored by the Veterans History Project to enhance their interviewing skills and conducted more interviews this summer with community members of the Federated Tribes of Grande Ronde and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon.

Although many will view the dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial in 2020 as a culmination point, the effort to collect and preserve the history of Native veterans’ service has no end date. The stories of Native veterans will live forever in the archives of the Library of Congress and represent the living voice of the memorial. To learn more, visit the NMAI’s website dedicated to the memorial project at AmericanIndian.si.edu/nnavm. For more information on the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, visit www.loc.gov/vets.

In memory of Christopher E. Janis (Oglala Lakota, Feb. 1, 1975 – May 27, 2017). United States Marine Corps, 1993–1997, Inactive Reserves, 1997–2001.

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