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Veterans Share Concerns on NMAI Memorial

The NMAI advisory panel for the Native American Veterans’ Memorial recently heard concerns from tribal veterans in Oklahoma City.

The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) has been working since October to build a Native American Veterans’ Memorial in Washington D.C. NMAI formed an advisory panel that was in Oklahoma City on July 19 hearing from local veterans. One of the main concerns presented was how to connect the warriors from all tribal nations through one symbol for the memorial.

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Robert Poolaw, a Kiowa who served two tours in Vietnam, said the memorial’s designers should “pick something that represents all people.”

Other Native veterans were in favor of a quiet place of reflection and of the presence of a waterfall being a strong, calming presence that could form a common bond. Others stressed the difficulty of finding symbols to which all Native veterans could relate. One idea was incorporating all tribal seals into the memorial symbol.

Curtis Smith, representing the Mvskoke Nation Color Guard, emphasized the need to find common Native veteran symbols. “It has to be one symbol that has to recognize everybody,” he said. “That’s going to be very difficult. I’m sure there’s some smart people out there who can come up with a design where it will come about.”

NMAI director and committee member, Kevin Gover, Pawnee, discussed recent developments giving NMAI two options to build the memorial -- near a wetlands area or near a “riverwalk” type of site. Gover also said the proposed completion date is now 2020, rather than the Veterans Day 2019 unveiling that was originally projected. The memorial will include Native veterans who served all the way back to the creation of the United States, from the Revolutionary War to the present.

Other plans for the memorial include an interactive screen where visitors could type in a relative’s name and find out information on their service. Gover also spoke of wanting oral histories of Native veterans as part of the memorial.

The consultation session was held at the Bricktown Hotel and Convention Center in Oklahoma City, and hosted by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. Those present as part of the NMAI panel included Jefferson Keel, panel co-chair and Chickasaw Nation Lt. Governor; Marshall Gover; Herman Viola; Ponca Nation tribal chair Earl Howell and Kevin Gover.

Consultation dates remaining are: October 5 in Sacaton, Arizona and October 20 in Fairbanks, Alaska. For those who cannot attend a consultation, questions and comments can be sent to NMAI-NativeVeteransMemorial@si.edu.

Seth Mopope Morgan of the Kiowa Tribe and the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma is a U.S. Army veteran who served in 1997-2000.

“The Native American Veterans Memorial would be a good way to show the country the tremendous contribution that our Native men and women veterans have given to our country,” Morgan said. “One of the things all tribes have in common is we’re all proud of our veterans.”

Maya Torralba (Wichita/Kiowa/Comanche) contributed to this story.