"It's a blessing to us, to have come this far," Pratt said when he presented his final proposal at the NMAI on June 14. Pratt was among a group of five finalists who were in the running for the memorial. During his presentation, he credited his family and his design team for helping him refine his submission for “Warriors’ Circle of Honor.” "I want to thank our ancestors for their traditions and their ceremonies that we continue to use," Pratt said. "That's what this memorial is based on." A key element of the design is an open circle that will be made out of stainless steel. The "Sacred Circle" is meant to symbolize unity among all Native veterans, Pratt said. On ceremonial and special occasions, a flame at the base of the circle can be ignited in honor of sacred fires seen in many tribal traditions. The flame, Pratt said, serves as an invitation for veterans and their families to share their "war stories." "We'll light that fire and have a ceremony and be comforted by that fire," Pratt said.
The "Sacred Circle" will be placed on top of a large stone base, made in the shape of a circular drum, another tribal tradition. Water will flow over the drum, symbolizing purity, prayer, cleansing and reflection, according to Pratt. "Nothing grows without water," Pratt noted. The circle and the drum base will be located inside a larger circular wall so visitors can experience the memorial with multiple senses. They can enter through the "Red Road," which will feature seals from all the U.S. military branches, sit on circular benches surrounding the "Sacred Circle," walk around it from all directions, feel the water flowing over the drum and hear the water echoing throughout the overall structure, Pratt said. Further, the memorial will be placed on the NMAI grounds so that it can be seen from inside the facility and the welcoming circle right outside the main doors. Visitors also will be able to look through the "Sacred Circle" and see the iconic U.S. Capitol building immediately east of the museum. "All of these things touch your senses, said Pratt.
The five finalist teams, which included two other tribal citizens, initially came together at the NMAI in February after being chosen as participants in the memorial competition. They refined their submissions and returned to the museum this month for additional presentations and to take questions from a jury of experts in art, architecture and design. The jury had originally planned to announce a winner on July 4, the birthday of the United States, a fitting time, since Native veterans have served as far back as the Revolutionary War. The experts were able to finish their work ahead of schedule. With the winning design chosen, a groundbreaking is expected 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, ensured that the NMAI could start raising funds and begin work on the project. The total cost of the effort, including outreach, the competition, construction and an endowment, has been estimated at $15 million. The memorial itself has been budgeted for $8 million of that amount. An advisory committee is helping raise funds for the memorial. The panel is co-chaired by Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and a former U.S. Senator, and Jefferson Keel, 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.
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