Southern Ute Veterans Assoc. represents with Color Guard
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian celebrated the dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial Thursday, Nov. 11 — Sunday, Nov. 13 in Washington, D.C., hosting a weekend of special events and cultural programming to highlight the service and sacrifice of Native veterans and their families.
Native Veterans were also formally recognized at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. for a special event honoring Native American Heritage Month, the first of its kind, bringing guest speakers, cultural performances, and a formal presentation of the eagle staff and flag song by the Kiowa Black Leggings Warriors Society from Carnegie, Okla.
The Pentagon is the headquarters building of the United States Department of Defense. Built during World War II as a symbol of the U.S. military; construction took place between 1941 and 1943 in the heart of Washington, D.C. — the nature of this specific location added another layer of historical significance and symbolism to the Native American Heritage Month program honoring Native veterans.
“The invitation to the Pentagon’s first open event for the Native American Heritage Month and the Smithsonian’s dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial was historical at a national level,” emphasized Southern Ute Veteran Raymond Baker, U.S. Navy Retired.
“The opportunity to represent Indian Country, my Tribe and all warriors past and present was a true honor,” Baker said. “Our Southern Ute Veterans Association members are true stewards and ambassadors that have a proven track record for getting positive results and establishing new ways ahead. I look forward to seeing what other endeavors we can accomplish in the future.”
Joining Raymond Baker (U.S. Navy Retired) in Washington, D.C. were fellow Southern Ute Veterans Association members — Bruce LeClaire (U.S. Army), Bruce Valdez (U.S. Army), Gordon Hammond (U.S. Marines), and Southern Ute Tribal Council member, Linda Baker.
The National Museum of the American Indian purposefully celebrated the dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial on Veterans Day this year, Friday, Nov. 11. Describing the memorial as a “special space that rightfully honors the military service and sacrifice of generations of Native heroes,” according to an NMAI press release. “Currently, more than 31,000 Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Natives serve on active duty, and more than 140,000 veterans identify as Native—and we are honored to celebrate their enduring contribution and sacrifice.”
The dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial was symbolically kicked off with a historic procession of Native Veterans and their respective color guards on the National Mall, Friday, Nov. 11— commemorating this highly significant event by recognizing the enduring service of Native American soldiers.
The procession brought an estimated 1,700 Native veterans and their supporters down Independence Avenue SW and onto the National Mall, where tribal flags were lined up representing sovereign tribes across North America. Following the formal dedication speeches, the flame of the National Native American Veterans Memorial was lit for the first time as dusk settled over the nation’s capitol.
“On this Veterans Day, we hope you will celebrate with us as we reflect on the impact of this inclusive space that honors all Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian veterans and their families, and welcomes visitors from all walks of life,” said David Saunders, NMAI Director of Membership. “Native Americans have served in the United States military in extraordinary numbers since the country’s founding. Despite this 250-year legacy of sacrifice, however, the military contributions of Native Americans have often gone unrecognized at the national level. Until now.”
“Through elements that are significant to Native cultures throughout the Americas—such as the memorial’s circular shape, representing the cycle of life, and the water pulsing on the memorial’s base, representing the drumbeat calling people to gather together—the National Native American Veterans Memorial serves as a place to honor the sacrifices and service of generations of Native veterans,” according to the NMAI press release.
“Thanks to the generosity of its members, the National Museum of the American Indian opened the National Native American Veterans Memorial to the public on November 11th—Veterans Day, 2020,” Saunders said. “And today, on the two-year anniversary of the monument’s opening, the museum will pay tribute to our nation’s long overlooked Native heroes through a three-day dedication of the memorial.”
The structure’s designer, Harvey Pratt (Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma), is a Southern Cheyenne Peace Chief, a Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, and an artist. His concept, entitled “Warriors’ Circle of Honor,” was unanimously selected by a jury from 120 proposals.
The National Museum of the American Indian raised $15 million for construction of the memorial. Those Fundraising efforts continue with a $5 million goal to support ongoing programming, interpretation, maintenance, and endowment.
“The memorial functions as a long overdue homage to the tens of thousands of Native Americans who have served this country in every major military conflict since its founding—as well as the loved ones who have supported them along the way,” Saunders said. “Helping us bring awareness to a long history of military service that has too often gone unacknowledged.”
The National Museum of the American Indian remained open to the public, where visitors had an opportunity to visit the exhibition Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces on the museum’s second floor.
The non-fiction book, “Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces,” acts as a companion piece to the NMAI exhibit and chronicles the generations of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians who have served in the United States Armed Forces during every military conflict since the country’s founding. Published in conjunction with the dedication of the National Native American Veterans Memorial at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., the book features seldom told stories of Native service as well as a wealth of images, including sketches, photographs, contemporary art, and objects from the museum’s collections.
In the book, Native veterans discuss their reasons for serving. “Foremost among these was an inherited duty to protect their homeland, family, community, and way of life,” according to the book’s authors. “At a consultation hosted by the Southern Ute Tribe, tribal member and Vietnam Veteran Rod Grove remarked, ‘Our great-great-grandparents’ bones are in this land that we live on, so we still think of it as our own. We’re willing to put forth our lives to keep enemies away.’”
Similar sentiments echo across the country by generations of Native Americans who have served, or continue to serve, to protect their homelands through military service in the U.S. Armed Forces. “I found out I am not fighting for the little bitty piece of land I talk about, or my immediate family. I found out I was fighting for all the Indian people, all the people of the United States,” stated Samuel Tso (Navajo), United States Marine Corps.