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A decades-old plan to honor Native American veterans with a prominent memorial on the National Mall is on its way to becoming a reality. Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) today shared five potential concepts for the permanent monument that will eventually stand on its grounds, designed by artists who responded to an open-to-all, international design competition the museum launched last fall.
The visions of the finalists — three of whom are Native American (and two on the same team) — vary widely in style. Among them is a hexagonal, rough marble monument by Daniel SaSuWeh Jones of the Ponca Nation and Enoch Kelley Haney of the Seminole Nation, which depicts six warriors who surround allegories of Nature and the Future. A more modern design by LA-based landscape architect James Dinh centers on five triangular, translucent totems to be etched with terms like “sacrifice” and “valor,” which will illuminate at night. The Cheyenne-Arapaho artist Harvey Pratt also proposed a minimalist but striking memorial in the form of a large loop that represents a sacred circle, rooted in symbolic elements of water and fire.
A jury of Native and non-Native artists, designers, scholars, and veterans selected the five designs out of 120 submissions from around the world. (The only international finalist is Leroy Transfield, who is Māori.) To help guide that process, NMAI had established an advisory committee, composed of Native veterans and tribal leaders from across the country, which had traveled for nearly two years to speak to different Native communities to seek their feedback on what the memorial should express. The official competition guidelines asked that proposals reflect Native spirituality; honor American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiians; and not include markers of specific tribal identification, among other stipulations.
The finalists have until May 1 to further develop and refine their concepts after receiving feedback from NMAI representatives, and the results will be exhibited at the National Museum of the American Indian in both Washington, DC and New York City from mid-May to June 3. The jury will then revisit the designs and select a final one for fabrication, and the museum will dedicate the official memorial on Veterans Day in 2020. Hyperallergic reached out to the museum for additional insight on what the ideal design should embody but did not receive a response.
The grand unveiling will mark the culmination of a long, government-backed mission to honor the service and sacrifice of Native American veterans. Congress had authorized the creation of the memorial in 1994, but it wasn’t until 2013 that fundraising was approved. As with other memorials, including those to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars, the memorial project will receive no federal funds, so NMAI is currently soliciting online donations to meet its estimated budget of $15 million. That amount will cover the creation of the memorial, its long-term maintenance, and all related educational programs. Donors who contribute $100,000 or more will have their names recognized on a plaque at the memorial site.
This will not be the first memorial honoring Native American veterans — see Wisconsin’s Highground park, or the Heard Museum’s sculptural tribute — but the prominent presence of such a landmark on the heavily trafficked Mall is long overdue. Statistics from the Department of Defense (D0D) show that Native Americans have historically served in the military at a higher rate per capita than other ethnic groups. DoD also estimates that over 31,000 American Indian and Alaska Native individuals are on active duty today, stationed around the world. Native Americans have served in the US military every war since the Revolutionary War; about 42,000 served in the Vietnam War, while about 44,000 served in World War II, including, perhaps most famously, the Code Talkers.
This history is explored in an exhibition organized by NMAI, Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces, which is traveling across the country until the memorial’s dedication day. The museum is also currently collaborating with the Library of Congress on the Veterans History Project, which collects oral histories of Native American veterans to preserve and make them publicly accessible.
Check out the five proposals for the memorial below: