With 21,000 on active duty today, Native Americans have the highest rate of military service per capita for any ethnic group in the United States. Yesterday (June 26), the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian chose a design by Cheyenne & Arapaho artist Harvey Pratt for what will be the National Native American Veterans Memorial. Pratt, also a Marine Corps veteran, submitted the design in response to the museum’s open call last year. Pratt told Smithsonian.com that his design uses a stainless steel circle and open flame to represent many Indigenous peoples’ understanding of the cyclical nature of life.

“On ceremonial occasions, a flame will be ignited at the base of the circle,” Pratt said about the memorial. “Veterans, families and others are invited to ‘come to the campfire’ and tell their stories.” Pratt added that the monument will feature an “intricately carved stone drum” to convey the recurring rhythm of Native Americans’ sacrifices.

Following a 2013 Congressional mandate to develop the memorial, the museum and National Congress of American Indians created an advisory committee of tribal leaders and veterans to conduct community consultations around the country. This community outreach informed the call for designs and the selection of Pratt’s vision by a jury of artists and art professionals, including six Indigenous members. 

“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,” said museum director and alternate juror Kevin Gover (Pawnee) in the announcement. “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. 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 museum plans to break ground on September 21, 2019, before opening the memorial to the public on Veteran’s Day 2020.