Video: Breaking ground on Native American veterans’ memorial

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

Harvey Pratt, who is Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux, won the design contest for the memorial

A hawk flew the day Harvey Pratt and other planners were scouting for a location to build the National Native American Veterans Memorial near the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

That hawk landed, danced around, and waited in the trees after the group was done. The location was set.

The new memorial will face the Capitol -- and Native veterans are again on the frontlines protecting their people.

Eight shovels broke ground for the memorial this past weekend in front of the public, current service members and veterans. National Museum of American Indian Director Kevin Grover, Bill Lomax who sits on the museum’s board of trustees, Rep. Deb Haaland, Harvey Pratt, Jefferson chair who is the co-chair of the memorial’s advisory committee, Vice Chairwoman Brenda Shopodock of the Forest County Potawatomi Community, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, and the Smithsonian Provost John Davis took their shovels to the dirt.

The memorial has been in the works since 1994 when it was first passed by Congress in the Native American Veterans Memorial Act.

The law “specified that no federal funds be spent on the memorial and only the National Congress of American Indians could solicit contributions for its creation,” Frank Hopper wrote for Indian Country Today. “These restrictions made it difficult to raise money. So in 2013, the legislation was amended to allow the National Museum of the American Indian to participate in raising funds and also authorized them to hold a competition to select a design.”

Pratt, who is Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux, won the design contest.

Native veterans memorial
Arapaho Projects Manager Lena Nells of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Language and Culture Program and Vice Commander Raymond Baker of the Southern Ute Veterans Association at the groundbreaking ceremony for the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington,D.C., on September 21, 2019.(Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

Besides construction, the next step is the dedication of the memorial that will happen on Nov. 11, 2020, formerly known as Veteran’s Day.

The dedication is expected to be a huge celebration similar to when the museum opened 15 years ago. The dedication and celebration will be open to the public. Stay updated with the memorial and its dedication at the National Native American Veterans Memorial website. 

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Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is the Washington editor for Indian Country Today based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email: