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National Native American Veterans Memorial designer discusses concepts behind his work

An aerial view of the construction scene at the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Memorial Day May 25, 2020. (Earthcam.com)

Ceremony and spirituality will be two key components of the National Native American Veterans Memorial.


Harvey Pratt, the memorial’s designer, explained the concepts behind his work during a teleconference in May hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. The memorial is under construction and scheduled to be dedicated later this year on the NMAI grounds. The 18-minute video is available on YouTube.


The memorial honors American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian veterans.


“The Native American people have defended this land this country from the very beginning. We’re still here; we’re still defending this land for this country,” Pratt said during the discussion.


“…we are excited to be building the National Native American Veterans Memorial on the grounds of the museum to honor Native veterans and bring awareness to the extraordinary service of Native men and women in the United States Armed Forces,” said Mandy Van Heuvelen (Cheyenne River Sioux), NMAI’s cultural interpreter manager, who hosted the interview with Pratt.


Pratt (Cheyenne and Arapaho) is a self-taught artist from Oklahoma. He’s a Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Marines Corps’ Air Rescue and Security and was stationed at Da Nang Air Base. He also has a 50-year career in law enforcement as a forensic artist.


He brings a wealth of experience to the memorial, having sculpted works for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the state of Colorado, to name a few.

Elements such as wind, fire, water and the earth are incorporated in the NMAI memorial. Pratt described the “path of life” that leads to the memorial.


“As you walk this path of life there is an audio system and you can hear the drum beat, the rolling thunder of the drum beat as it crescendos up into the thunder of the drums as you are walking to the memorial,” he said. “Then, when you get closer, you can hear softly the Indians sing a flag song or a veterans song or a memorial song.”


The Warriors Circle of Honor, which can be entered clockwise or counterclockwise, will be a focal point for ceremonies, healing, prayers and reflections. A circular seating area within the circle will allow people to become in harmony with nature, spirits and the earth, Pratt said.


Directional points, or cardinal points, will each carry significance. Southeast, for example, is white. Pratt says it’s where the sun comes up and can be prayerful.


“You can start your day every day with a prayer to the Creator and try to be a better person today than you were yesterday,” Pratt said.


Southwest is red and it is in recognition of the Creator; northwest is yellow to honor Mother Earth and northeast is black to remember ancestors.


The area will have four lances with eagle feathers in tribute to awards that Native veterans earned. Pratt said people can tie a prayer cloth to a lance and say a prayer.

An illustration of Harvey Pratt’s design for the National Native American Veterans Memorial at the National Museum of the American Indian. (NMAI)


“Every time the wind blows, that prayer goes out again,” he said.


Fire will be part of a 12-foot high steel circle. A large drum will feature flowing water.


“This design was specifically for Native Americans, for them to understand and see where they can sit in there and be comfortable and do their ceremony in private or to be observed,” Pratt said.


Pratt also wants the memorial to serve as an educational and emotional place for non-Natives, hoping they will absorb the energy from the ceremonies.


The memorial is scheduled to be dedicated on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2020, although the pandemic has altered plans. A message on NMAI’s website (as of late May) said the Native Veterans Procession, which was scheduled to be part of the dedication events, has been postponed. The message also states: “As of right now, we do not yet know how our plans for the memorial’s dedication will be affected. We are exploring all options available to us as we develop these plans.”

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