Veterans at the National Congress of American Indians annual convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in October 2017. Photo: NCAI
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Native veterans memorial in nation's capital sees major progress

A memorial to American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiians is taking a major step forward in the nation's capital.

After decades of work, a design for the National Native American Veterans Memorial will be selected in just a few months. Five finalists -- drawn from a pool of 120 completed submissions -- are in the running for what will be a truly historic presence on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

“This is a tremendously important effort to recognize Native Americans’ service to this nation," Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and a former U.S. Senator who co-chairs the advisory committee for the new memorial, said when the design competition opened last November. "We have so much to celebrate."

The memorial will be built on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C., and that's where the finalists are introducing themselves and presenting their ideas this Wednesday. The designers will each have 15 minutes to share their visions and their initial concepts for the site.

The finalists will then have until May 1 to refine and complete their proposals. From there, a jury of experts in art, architecture and design will weigh the submissions and announce a winner on July 4 -- the birthday of the United States.

“We are exceedingly happy that we received such a wide response to the competition,” said Donald J. Stastny, an architect who is managing the design competition for the memorial. He previously oversaw the competition for the National World War 1 Memorial, which broke ground in November.

The group of five finalists for the National Native American Veterans Memorial includes three tribal citizens, including the former leaders of two tribes. All three happen to be from Oklahoma.

One of the finalists is a team consisting of Dan SaSuWeh Jones, a former chairman of the Ponca Tribe, and Enoch Kelly Haney, a former principal chief of the Seminole Nation. Jones is a writer and an artist, as is Haney, who is well known for designing the statue that appears on the dome of the Oklahoma capitol building. He served three terms in the Oklahoma Legislature in addition to leading his tribe.

"I am deeply honored to be chosen by the Smithsonian Institution as a finalist with such world-class artist," Jones wrote on Facebook.

Jones added: "And to be partnered with someone I have long admired as Enoch Kelly Haney is such a great honor indeed." Haney has been counting down the days to Wednesday's presentation on his personal Facebook page.

The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Another finalist is Harvey Pratt, who hails from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. He's an artist, too, but he also bears the distinction of being one of the nation's foremost forensic artists. He retired from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation last year, after five decades of serving in law enforcement capacities.

"It's an honor to be one of the five finalist for the design of the National Native American Veterans Memorial," Pratt said on Facebook.

The other three finalists are non-Native, though one is Leroy Transfield, who is a Moari sculptor from New Zealand. He now works and produces art in Utah.

James Dinh, an artist whose works have been installed in public spaces in California, and Stefanie Rocknak, a sculptor and professor based in New York, round out the list.

The presentation by the finalists on Wednesday is open to the public. It takes place from 1:30pm to 4:30pm Eastern at the Rasmuson Theater on the first floor of the NMAI. The session also will be webcast at

After the finalists refine their submissions for the May 1 deadline, their concepts will be put on display on May 19. Visitors to the NMAI in D.C., as well as the facility in New York will be able to see the designs in person.

With a winner on track to be selected in July, the advisory committee for the memorial has anticipated a groundbreaking sometime in 2019. The goal is to open it in time for Veteran's Day in November 2020.

Congress authorized the memorial through H.R.2319, the Native American Veterans' Memorial Amendments Act of 2013. The bill, which was signed into law by former president Barack Obama, was needed to clarify that the NMAI could raise funds and start work on the project.

The total cost of the effort, including outreach, the competition, construction and an endowment, has been estimated at $15 million, with the advisory committee helping NMAI raise funds.

Campbell is co-chairing the committee along with Jefferson Keel, who serves the president of the National Congress of American Indians and the lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation. Both Campbell and Keel are U.S. military veterans.

Related Stories:
NMAI seeks input from tribes about veterans memorial in DC (July 22, 2016)
Native Sun News: Plans underway for Native veterans memorial (04/14)
Former Sen. Campbell raises funds for veterans memorial in DC (12/08)
NMAI raising $15M to build Indian veterans memorial in DC (11/11)
Seminole Tribe casino meals support Indian veterans memorial (11/10)
Obama signs bill for Native veterans memorial at NMAI in DC (12/27)
House committee backs bill for Native veterans memorial in DC (12/05)