Native American memorial set to open in 2018

By Rebecca Jackson, News Editor

A 1994 Act of Congress permitted the creation of a memorial for Native American Veterans by the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) on the National Mall. It is set to be unveiled Veterans day Nov. 11, 2020, just two years away.

Although Native Americans contribute much to society, they are often overlooked in urban cities away from reservations and pockets with high densities of populations. The memorial will stand to appreciate Native American service in times in need.

According to the National Native American Veterans Memorial website, with this memorial, “we will recognize for the first time on a national scale the enduring and distinguished service of Native Americans in every branch of the U.S. armed forces.”

It is very common to find Native Americans who have served in the military, and these people are revered on reservations and in Indian country. Veterans even serve special roles in dance celebrations called ‘powwows.’

According to a Jan. 14 Washington Post article, in the 1900s Native Americans served in the United States military at a higher per capita rate than any other ethnic group, such as African American or Latino.

A reason for a high rate of Indian military service may be the patriotism and attachment that Native Americans have for the land. They lived in America before its settlement and although their history with the United States has not been pretty, they are proud to be here.

“My own uncle fought in Vietnam for two tours and another uncle fought on a navy ship in World War II,” said Ed Gehres, a partner of the Van Ness Feldman Native American and Tribal Business practice group. “On small businesses in reservation, there are always pictures of children [the owners or someone else’s’] in the military as a place of honour.”

According to the Washington Post article, over 31,000 Native Americans are currently on active duty, and more than 140,000 veterans identify as Native Americans or Alaska Natives.

“I did a small amount of cultural stuff with my mom, but it really started with the college process when the forms asked me ‘what do you identify as’,” Gehres said.

Gehres is D.C. resident and an Eastern band Cherokee descendant. After learning about native life and community while attending University of Michigan, his first out-of-college job was as a research intern on the senate committee on indian affairs. Now a large part of his career is providing legal representation to Native American tribes.

“I think that popular culture has taught us a lot about general respect of the right [of Native Americans] to stand up for themselves,” Gehres said. “There are important films that talk about veterans, and issues such their views on environment (the Dakota Access Pipeline) have been covered on CNN.”

The new bill passed by President Trump Jan. 29 federally recognized six more native American tribes in the state of Virginia. The DMV area was heavily populated by Native Americans historically, but they were removed or confined very early. There are other tribes working for recognition, but the long, expensive process and the documents necessary to prove their status inhibits most of them.

According to Gehres, he believes that there is a “growing awareness and respect that indians are not confined to history books” even though there is still some prevalent “racism in Indian country.”

In the early 1900s an area of Virginia eliminated the category of Indian altogether, only displaying ‘white’ or ‘black’ on the census. Native Americans had very little rights and although they have much more now, they still may struggle in working with the government.

“Each indian nation interested in economic development, education and schools, preserving land and natural resources,” Gehres said. “The issues are the same, but the tribes are vastly different.”

Although it is a decidedly positive thing to commemorate the service of Native Americans, there are still questions left to be answered. The exhibit/display may not appeal to everyone and some tribes may wonder if it should be located in an area more heavily populated by Indians, rather than in the nation’s capital.

“Even though NMAI has always been a respected meeting place for Indian nations, there is no ‘history’ in name ‘The National Museum of the American Indian,’” said Gehres. “The garden that will open to the plaza facing the capitol reminds you about the difficult relationship. Here they are making a conscious effort to reflect that native people and their culture are living things.”

The proximity to the United States Capitol depicts how Native Americans are Americans and have a say in the government that rules them.

Last year, NMAI held a traveling Exhibit called “Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forceswhich gave a voice to Native Americans veterans. The museum is also collaborating with the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress to make oral histories of Native American veterans more easily accessible than they are now.

According to the website, “since 2015, the advisory committee and the museum have conducted community consultations to seek input and support for the memorial. Regional events have brought together tribal leaders, Native veterans, and community members to gather their insights and advice.”

In 2017, The NMAI held a design competition open to Native and non-Native to allow public opinion to influence the memorial and recently chose five finalists who presented their visions Feb. 7, 2018.

On the highly anticipated opening in 2020, the museum plans for a multi-day event that includes a Native American Veterans procession on the National Mall.