The Native Nations Inaugural Ball, honoring Native American veterans, was held Jan. 20 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
The evening was part of an earlier inauguration for a veterans’ memorial that will be built on the outside of the museum to honor contributions and sacrifices of American Indian/Alaska Natives, and Pacific Island military veterans.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Stephen Bowers and his wife, Elizabeth, attended the Inaugural Ball, which was part of a fundraiser to build the memorial slated to be completed on Veterans Day 2020. Both were honored as turquoise level sponsors for their generous donation. More than $500,000 has been donated to the cause from several Native Americans and non-Indian organizations, corporations and individuals. For the past five years, with the support of the Seminole Tribal Council, Stephen and Elizabeth Bowers have campaigned for the recognition of Native American Indian veterans.
“The Ball and the Committee meeting held the day before were great. We had a broad representation of natives and nonnatives. Alaska Natives also came; they have a rich history of involvement in our military. It was exciting to finally see one’s work start to come to fruition,” said Stephen Bowers, a Vietnam combat veteran.
Bowers is a member of the Veteran Memorial Committee that the museum has assembled to help establish the design criteria, select judges, and develop a variety of fundraising activities for the memorial. The museum staff has had outreach consultations with Tribes throughout the country and Alaska to get input on the memorial’s design as well as an interactive exhibit that is planned for the museum.
Several Natives attended the National Inaugural Gala event including Chairman Ernie Stephens of the National Indian Gaming Association), and Peter MacDonald, one of the last 13 surviving Navajo Code Talkers. Major sponsors of the event included the Chickasaw Nation, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and Morongo Band of Mission Indians.
The Inaugural Ball was just the start of fundraising efforts for the veterans memorial at the museum.
Stephen and Elizabeth Bowers are also working with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to help raise funds for a Native American exhibit in the new education center that will be built near the Lincoln Memorial and Vietnam Wall.
Elizabeth Bowers continuously reminds people about the historical importance of Native Americans in the military.
“Many Native Americans fought during World War I without citizenship, a fact that few non-Indians know. Also, many people are surprised to learn that Native Americans fought the most per capita in the Vietnam conflict,” she said.
In the future, there will be more opportunities to get educated on Native American veterans. The NMAI museum has developed a traveling exhibition, which depicts some of the military involvement of Native Americans.
“Keep your eyes open for when we have it here on the Seminole Tribe of Florida reservations,” Stephen Bowers said.