The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian invited veterans and supporters from across Indian Country to the public initiative for the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. — Thursday, Nov. 8. Representing the Southern Ute Veteran’s Association, were Association Vice-Commander, Raymond Baker (U.S. Navy Retired) and Association Treasurer, Bruce LeClaire (U.S. Army).
How do we do things better as an association? as a Tribe? Baker asked. “We want to see what the rest of Indian Country is doing for Native Veterans, that was our main goal,” Baker emphasized. “Native Americans have always been there to stand up for the fight, I am glad to see this recognition,” he said. “I’m glad to see a National Monument. Am I proud? Yeah I’m proud!” We presently have 55 veterans with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Baker explained. “These vets went [overseas] to represent not just the United States, but the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.
“The current National Monuments exclude the Native American soldiers, so I think it is long overdue,” Le Claire explained. “Per capita, we have more volunteers than any other ethnic demographic — I think that pretty much holds true from WWII to current [conflicts].”
Baker and LeClaire also scheduled a trip to Arlington National Cemetery, in the days preceding Veteran’s Day. The veterans were able to witness the time-honored ceremony of the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This ritual is carried out by members of the 3rd U. S. Infantry Regiment, nicknamed “The Old Guard”. The sentinels are assigned to guard the monument to ensure the respect and security of one of America’s most sacred symbols. The guards adhere to this solemn and precise ritual throughout the year. “What a moving place to visit,” Baker remarked. Just walking around there, reading the names on the headstones — it’s the equivalent of U.S. military holy grounds, Baker reflected.
Among those who opened up the reception at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), with their welcome address were: Native American artist and memorial designer, Harvey Pratt, Chickasaw Lt. Governor, Jefferson Keel, and NMAI Director, Kevin Gover. “I hope you take home the excitement [of the memorial project] and take this home to your communities,” Gover said.
The design for the National Native American Veterans Memorial was announced earlier this year. Selection of the final concept was made by a jury, the review panel awarded the competition to the, “Warrior’s Circle of Honor” by Harvey Pratt.
“We are grateful for the generous gifts announced by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and BNSF Railway Foundation,” said Elaine Webster, Assistant Director for Advancement at the National Museum of the American Indian. “Their commitment was contagious and more people than we expected contributed to the project that night.”
Keel and Gover each pledged to personally contributing 10K to the fundraising efforts for the National Native American Veterans Memorial. “Why has it taken so long?” Keel remarked in regards to the actualization of the memorial in the Capitol. “For me it’s personal, I am very excited about this.” Keel is a retired U.S. Army officer with over 20 years active duty service.
Groundbreaking for the memorial is scheduled for September 21, 2019, with a formal dedication on Veterans Day, November 11, 2020.