You are here
Home > Community > Native veterans memorial touched by Seminole influence

Native veterans memorial touched by Seminole influence

From left to right are Paul Bowers Sr., Mitchell Cypress and Stephen Bowers wearing Seminole Color Guard regalia in an undated photo. (Tribune file photo)

On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, the National Native American Veterans Memorial is to be officially dedicated with a procession and ceremony at its home in Washington, D.C. The Covid-19 pandemic caused the event to be postponed for two years.

It is the first memorial on the National Mall to honor the service of Native Americans in the U.S. military. The event is expected to draw scores of visitors from across the country, including a contingent from the Seminole Tribe. The tribe’s late Stephen Bowers, who died in 2020 at age 71, worked with colleagues for a decade to see the memorial become a reality. His younger sister, Wanda Bowers, and his niece, Hollywood Board Rep. Christine McCall, said they will take part in the procession and ceremony to represent Bowers and honor his work and service.

Bowers served in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War and was the former Veterans Affairs director for the tribe. Not long before his death, he helped to acquire the U.S. Army “Huey” helicopter located outside of the Florida Seminole Veterans Building on the Brighton Reservation.

Military service and support for veterans runs deep in the Bowers family. Family members who served include Paul Bowers Sr., a U.S. Marine veteran with two Purple Hearts, and Andrew Bowers Jr., also a U.S. Marine veteran. The entire family was recognized for its military service at the Seminole Tribal Fair & Pow Wow in early 2020.

The tribe has many veterans past and present who served. Native Americans have participated in every major U.S. military conflict since the Revolutionary War in the late 1700s. The U.S. Department of Defense reports that Native Americans have served at a higher rate in proportion to their population than any other ethnic group. Stephen Bowers saw the lack of representation in the nation’s capital as a gap to be filled.

‘His mission’

He had long campaigned for the addition of a statue of a Native American service member at the existing “Three Servicemen Statue” at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall. Bowers’ effort for a fourth statue at the site began in 2010 after President Mitchell Cypress (then Chairman) gave him his support.

“He took it as a charge and saw it as his mission,” Wanda Bowers, who is creating a booklet to recognize her brother, said.

However, he would learn that the U.S. Congress had passed a bill in 2003 that prevented another statue from being added at the site. So he turned his attention to getting a statue, or memorial, placed at another site on the National Mall. Congress would have to approve the plans and private funds would have to be raised.

“He went from [Florida] to every tribal nation he could go to, to attend tribal council meetings, to visit [tribal] chairmen, to get support and raise funds,” Bowers, who is the office manager for the tribal secretary in Hollywood, said. “Then he started going to Washington to talk to different congressmen. He was very adamant.”

Bowers said her brother was known for manning tables at events across Indian Country to spread the word about the proposed memorial and raise funds.

Eventually the project was handed over to the Smithsonian Institution. Kevin Gover (Pawnee), the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), came calling for Bowers to be on his advisory committee in 2015.

Gover and Bowers continued to raise funds and eventually a site on the grounds of the NMAI was approved for a memorial. The NMAI is located on the east end of the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol. Artist Harvey Pratt’s (Cheyenne/Arapaho) memorial design was chosen in June 2018. The central feature of the memorial is an elevated stainless steel circle resting on a carved stone drum.

“He lived long enough to know the wheels were turning and dedicated the last years of his life to it,” Bowers said.

Group effort

Bowers said even in his last years, when her brother was nursing a severely injured knee that affected his mobility and ability to travel, he continued to work the phones and send emails to raise money.

Bowers also credits her brother’s wife, Elizabeth Bates Bowers, for assisting him for many years on the memorial project.

“She would go with him everywhere, making reservations at hotels, she would do research and take pictures, and helped contact people in Washington or other tribal leaders,” Bowers said.

Bowers and Rep. McCall will be joined at the event by Mitchelene Bigman (Crow), the founder and president of the Native American Women Warriors, and a retired U.S. Army combat veteran. Hers was the first all-Native American women color guard in the U.S., founded in 2012.

Wanda Bowers met Bigman at a Denver March Powwow in the early 2000s when her group was part of the grand entry. She’d invite Bigman to events in Hollywood over the years and the two became friends. Bigman also works at the Hollywood office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a realty specialist for the Seminole Tribe.

Bigman knew Stephen Bowers as well, seeing him at events, and also serving with him on the memorial’s advisory committee.

“He would always set up his booths and tell people about the initiative and raise money,” Bigman said.

For more information, including a schedule of events, and to access a livestream of the procession and dedication Nov. 11, go to

Wanda Bowers, left, with Mitchelene Bigman in Bowers’ office at tribal headquarters on Oct. 13, 2022. (Photo Damon Scott)
Stephen Bowers was involved in veterans issues for many years. (Tribune file photo)
Stephen Bowers was the Veterans Affairs director for the tribe. (Tribune file photo)
The Native American Women Warriors, led by Mitchelene Bigman, at left, will be part of the procession on Nov. 11. (Courtesy Mitchelene Bigman)
The National Native American Veterans Memorial is adjacent to the National Museum of the American Indian. (Photo: Matailong Du for NMAI)
Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at