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Tribal members take part in D.C. memorial events

From left to right (standing) are Gus Baker, Ally Romero (Baker’s fiancé), Spencer Battiest, June Baker, Petra Battiest, Raquel McCloud (Native’s fiancé) and Doc Native. Seated is Judy Baker. (Courtesy Spencer Battiest)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – It was a rainy Veterans Day in the nation’s capital, but it didn’t dampen the spirits of those who descended on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to celebrate a milestone for Native American veterans.

On Nov. 11, about 1,700 Native American veterans representing dozens of tribes, along with family members and friends, took part in a procession that began at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and ended with a ceremony near the U.S. Capitol. The purpose of the gathering was to dedicate the National Native American Veterans Memorial, which opened Nov. 11, 2020. The procession and dedication was postponed for two years due to the pandemic.

Actor Wes Studi (Cherokee Nation) hosted the ceremony and introduced a line up of dignitaries, including NMAI director Cynthia Chavez Lamar (San Felipe Pueblo).

“The museum is proud to be the home of the memorial and will carry out our responsibility to forever welcome and honor veterans and educate people about the extraordinary military service of Native veterans and active duty service members,” she said.

Among those in attendance were members of the Seminole Tribe.

“It was a beautiful trip,” Tiffany Frank, executive assistant to Hollywood Board Rep. Christine McCall, said. “It was amazing. We were there to represent the tribe and be a part of history.”

The Frank family took part in the memorial’s procession. From left to right are Tiffany Frank, Luciano Boyce, Joel Frank Sr., Ky-Mani Boyce and Gianni Boyce. (Photo Damon Scott)

Frank’s children joined her for the festivities – Luciano Boyce, Ky-Mani Boyce and Gianni Boyce. The family walked in the procession with Frank’s father, Joel Frank Sr., who served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.

The dedication of the memorial was historic – it is the first monument on the National Mall that’s dedicated to Native Americans who have served in the U.S. military. Artist Harvey Pratt (Cheyenne and Arapaho), who served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, designed it.

Museum officials said that compared with their population size, Native Americans serve at “extraordinarily high numbers.” There are roughly 135,000 Native American veterans and active military service members today.

Seminole Tribe brothers and musicians Spencer Battiest and Doc Native walked in the procession and performed several of their songs inside the museum on two occasions during a weekend’s worth of activities. Native’s fiancé and Navy veteran Raquel McCloud (Ojibwe/Red Lake Nation) joined the pair in the procession as well.

Battiest said he remembered singing the national anthem when he was as young as 10 years old at various tribal events with the Seminole Color Guard. He said his grandfather, Gustavus Adolphus Baker III, was a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps for over 20 years.

Seminole musicians Doc Native, at left, and Spencer Battiest, perform inside the museum as part of the weekend’s events. (Photo Damon Scott)

Battiest’s sister, Petra Battiest; mother, June Baker; grandmother, Judy Baker; and cousin, Gus Baker, came to support the pair during their performances. Cheyenne Kippenberger was also in attendance. She worked with Seminole Media Productions to conduct video interviews with veterans throughout the weekend.

More Seminole connections

Many attendees visited the 12 foot tall memorial – called the “Warriors’ Circle of Honor.” The elements Pratt used in its design are significant to Native American cultures – the memorial’s stainless steel circle balanced on a carved stone drum represents the cycle of life, and the pulsating water at its base represents a drumbeat that calls people to gather. The memorial includes the seals of the Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marine Corps. Visitors often tie cloths for prayers and healing – a Native American tradition – on four lances around its edges.

The memorial’s cost was $15 million. In 1994, Congress passed legislation to establish it, and museum officials spoke to more than 1,200 veterans and tribal leaders in forums across the country to get their input.

The Seminole Tribe’s Stephen Bowers was on the memorial’s advisory board. He traveled the country for a decade talking to tribal leaders and congressional representatives to raise money and awareness to ensure the memorial would be built. It was one of his personal missions to see it come to fruition as quickly as possible.

Tribal representatives and NMAI officials, including NMAI director Cynthia Chavez Lamar (in red dress) and memorial designer Harvey Pratt (in blue cap), take part in the memorial’s dedication. (Joy Asico/AP Images for NMAI)

Battiest took time during his performance to recognize Bowers, who was also the tribe’s director of veterans affairs.

“I want to do a special shout out to someone who told me over a decade ago about the beautiful memorial they wanted to build here,” Battiest said. “His name is Stephen Bowers, who passed away recently and didn’t get the chance to come and see this.”

Bowers died June 1, 2020, at age 71, just months before the memorial opened to the public. Battiest remembered traveling with Bowers on some of his trips to encourage people to donate to the memorial.

“I know his family is watching now on a livestream, and I just want to say a special ‘I love you and I appreciate you and thank you,’” Battiest said. “I carry him within my heart today as well as all the veterans.”

Bowers’ sister, Wanda Bowers, and his niece, Rep. McCall, were both scheduled to attend the procession and dedication, but plans were cancelled due to Hurricane Nicole.

More information is at

The Frank family passes by the U.S. Capitol during the memorial’s procession. (Photo Damon Scott)
Doc Native, at left, and Spencer Battiest, walk in the memorial’s procession. (Photo Damon Scott)
The crowd gives Spencer Battiest and Doc Native a standing ovation. From left to right are Petra Battiest, Ally Romero, Raquel McCloud (Ojibwe/Red Lake Nation), June Baker and Judy Baker. (Photo Damon Scott)
The memorial is located on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) on the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol. (Photo Matailong Du for NMAI)
Mitchelene Bigman (Crow) is the founder and president of the Native American Women Warriors and a retired U.S. Army combat veteran. (Photo Damon Scott)
The Shiprock (New Mexico) High School Marine Corps JROTC walked in the memorial’s procession. (Photo Damon Scott)
(11) Members of the Neah Bay, Wisconsin, Native American Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 11481 took part in the memorial’s procession. (Photo Damon Scott)
Veterans from the Delaware Tribe of Indians (Lenape) hold a sign as they walk in the memorial’s procession. (Photo Damon Scott)
A group of women veterans walk in the memorial’s procession wrapped in traditional regalia. (Photo Damon Scott)
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