From left, National Native American Veterans Memorial design finalists: James Dinh; Leroy Transfield; collaborators Enoch Kelly Haney and Daniel SaSuWeh Jones; Stefanie Rocknak; and Harvey Pratt at the National Museum of the American Indian. Photo by Philip Athey / Cronkite News

Cronkite News: Finalists share visions for Native veterans memorial

Finalists hope Native American vets memorial is place of honor, healing

By Philip Athey
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – The charge from National Native American Veterans Memorial officials was daunting: Design a memorial that honors the contributions of every tribe to every war fought for the U.S.

“There are 565 native tribes across the country, and to put that into one statue was a little difficult,” said Enoch Kelly Haney, one of more than 100 designers who accepted the challenge.

Haney’s entry was one of five unveiled last week as finalists for the memorial, which will be located on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian, in the shadow of the Capitol.

The five projects range from the more traditional – statues of Native Americans wearing various U.S. military uniforms, some with tribal headdress – to more abstract designs, rich in symbolism and cultural meaning.

Finalists for National Native American Veterans Memorial

"Warrior's Circle of Honor" by Harvey Pratt features U.S. military seals as well as traditional motifs, including circles, fire, water, a drum and places for people to tie prayer cloths.

"Wellspring of Valor"by James Dinh features five translucent "totems' in a star pattern rising above a spring, surrounded by a semicircular wall with etchings and petroglyphs.

"We Fight for Our Country!" by Daniel SaSuWeh Jones and Enoch Kelley Haney features soldiers in different U.S. uniforms and traditional headdress protecting a mother and child.

"The Enduring Dance" by Stefanie Rocknak features eight statues in four groups of two, representing all branches of the armed services from various wars.

"Wall of Legends" by Leroy Transfield features a curving granite wall, mimicking the walls of the National Museum of the American Indian, that includes depictions of Native legends.

“The designs are just things we as Native people understand, we just do what we do,” Haney said Wednesday, as the finalists were presented.

The memorial has been more than 20 years in the making. First authorized by Congress in 1994, it was to be built within the walls of the museum, with all funding to come from the National Congress of American Indians.

But the project didn’t pick up steam until 2013, when Congress authorized the museum to start accepting contributions along with the National Congress of American Indians, and decreed that the memorial be placed outside the museum.

Native Americans have served in all American wars. In World War II, more than 10 percent of the total Native population in the U.S joined the military, even though they were still denied basic civil rights at home.

“We’re just a patriotic group of people,” said Haney, a Seminole who served in the Oklahoma National Guard at a time when he was denied service in hotels and restaurants near his training facilities, “because of the color of my skin.”

“It’s just the idea of sacrificing regardless of the fact the government was not treating you well,” said Stefanie Rocknak, one of the design finalists.

One possible reason for their service could be the amount of respect Native Americans give to those joining the military and those coming back from war, the designers said.

“When I came home from Vietnam, they did an honor dance for me,” said Harvey Pratt, a Cheyenne/Arapaho, and Marine veteran.

“They gave me a song and they made me feel better, they made me feel like someone. That was better than some other guys that were called baby killers,” said Pratt, whose memorial design was among the five finalists.

Note: This article originally appeared on Cronkite News and is published via a Creative Commons license. Cronkite News is produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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