An artist's rendering provides an aerial view of "Warriors’ Circle of Honor," Harvey Pratt's winning design for the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Image: Skyline Ink, courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian

Design selected for memorial to Native veterans in nation's capital

A design for a national memorial to American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian veterans has been selected ahead of schedule.

A jury of experts unanimously chose “Warriors’ Circle of Honor” by artist Harvey Pratt for the National Native American Veterans Memorial, the National Museum of the American Indian announced on Tuesday morning. The winning design pays tribute to the countless numbers of Native veterans who sacrificed their time and even gave their lives in defense of their homelands.

"Through meeting thousands of Native American veterans, I learned most of all about the commitment these veterans have to the well-being of the United States," Kevin Gover, a citizen of the Pawnee Nation who serves as director of the NMAI, said in a press release.

"These veterans are perfectly aware that they are serving a country that had not kept its commitments to Native people, and yet they chose—and are still choosing—to serve.," Gover continued. "This reflects a very deep kind of patriotism. I can think of no finer example of service to the United States and the promise it holds."

The choice of Pratt, who hails from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, is all the more fitting for the memorial, which will be built on the grounds of the NMAI in Washington, D.C. He himself is a veteran, having fought in the Vietnam War while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.

And Pratt is more than just an accomplished artist -- he 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 service in law enforcement.

National Museum of the American Indian on YouTube: NNAVM: Presentation of Final Design Proposals 6—Harvey Pratt

"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.

Artist's rendering of "Warriors' Circle of Honor," Harvey Pratt's winning design for the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Image: Skyline Ink, courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian

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.

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Native veterans memorial in nation's capital sees major progress (February 5, 2018)
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)