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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye
Indian Country Today

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Virginia — The mid-Atlantic air is in the crisp 40s at 7 a.m. Dew sits on cars and the cool air is refreshing to the lungs. The grass, white steps and walkway to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier sparkle when the golden sunrise hits them.

It’s quiet at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Plaza. The public and press can only whisper.

One by one, eight members of the Chief Plenty Coups Honor Guard from Pryor, Montana, placed a flower down in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and saluted the unknowns Tuesday morning. The eight members are descendants of Chief Plenty Coups.

Dozens more Crow Nation representatives, including students from Plenty Coups High School, follow suit. Jingling from the regalia can only be heard in the silence as they line up to lay down a flower.

Crow Nation citizens and representatives wait to lay down flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration in Arlington, Virginia, on November 9, 2021. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Indian Country Today)

It’s the first time in 96 years the public and visitors are allowed to approach the Tomb in the plaza. It’s a privilege only given to the sentinels of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard,” according to the Arlington Cemetery.

The flower ceremony kicked off a two-day event of the centennial commemoration.

The dedication to the Tomb took place on Nov. 11, 1921, according to the National Archives. “The Tomb is the final resting place for America’s unknown soldiers of war from World War I, World War II, and Korean War.”

Before the flower ceremony, a member of the Chief Plenty Coups Honor Guard smudged and opened the event.

“One hundred years ago today, Chief Plenty Coups stood on this very ground we are standing on at the dedication ceremony of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1921,” said Henry Lee Rock Above, a descendant of Chief Plenty Coup. “We, the Apsáalooke, also known as the Crow, the Crow people are here to respect and honor the bravery of men and women who gave their life for freedom. We continue the legacy of Chief Plenty Coups’ commitment to the United States of America in culture, strength, and language of the Crow people.”

President Warren G. Harding and the U.S. War Department invited Crow Chief Plenty Coups to say a few words at the 1921 dedication, said Elsworth GoesAhead, Crow and post commander in the Chief Plenty Coups Honor Guard, on ICT’s newscast.

Chief Plenty Coups Honor Guard, all descendants of Chief Plenty Coups, waiting for smudging and the public flower ceremonies to begin at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration in Arlington, Virginia, on November 9, 2021. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Indian Country Today)
Crow Nation citizens and representatives, including students from Plenty Coups High School, are the first to lay down flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration in Arlington, Virginia, on November 9, 2021. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Indian Country Today)
Crow Nation citizens and representatives, including students from Plenty Coups High School, are the first to lay down flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration in Arlington, Virginia, on November 9, 2021. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Indian Country Today)
Crow Nation citizens and representatives are the first to lay down flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Centennial Commemoration in Arlington, Virginia, on November 9, 2021. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Indian Country Today)

Chief Plenty Coups represented all tribal nations during this time and was one of the few to speak at the dedication. After giving a prayer, he left his war bonnet and coup stick on the tomb as a gift, GoesAhead said. Those now lay in the Arlington National Cemetery artifact collection and are on exhibit in the Memorial Amphitheater Display room, according to the Arlington National Cemetery.

GoesAhead is also a descendent of Chief Plenty Coups and sees him as an “influential leader.”

“And so being the statesman that he was, he worked really hard to have a relationship with the United States government and tracing his footsteps and his legacy back to Arlington, it's really difficult for me to wrap my head around that, the magnitude and the meaning of this event,” GoesAhead said. 

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This story has been updated to identify Henry Lee Rock Above, who gave the speech at the podium.