Alaska Native veterans attend dedication of Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

National Memorial to Native American Veterans

WASHINGTON — William Smith of Valdez, an Alaskan Native veteran who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, joined hundreds of Native American veterans from across the country in Washington, DC on Friday to attend the dedication ceremony for the National Native American Veterans Memorial.

At a gathering at the US Capitol Thursday night, Smith said, “For me, I’m here with veterans. I have my Alaskan Veterans here. But when you see us tomorrow, you’ll see how strong the veterans are and how much they appreciate that.”

“It’s all part of the healing process,” he said.

National Memorial to Native American Veterans

The memorial is housed in the National Museum of the American Indian and has a long history. Congress commissioned the memorial in the mid-1990s. But after the structure was finally completed in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the dedication ceremonies. Finally, Smith and more than 1,500 Native Americans, Hawaiians and Alaskan Natives gathered to dedicate the memorial on a rainy Veterans Day in Washington, DC

Benno Cleveland of Fairbanks, who is Inupiaq and served in the Army during the Vietnam War, also attended the dedication and got emotional while speaking about the gathering.

[Alaska’s military members honored publicly and privately on Veterans Day at JBER]

“We continue to serve even though our people have sometimes been wronged. But we continue to serve with honor and respect because this is our country and it will remain our country,” Cleveland said. “We continue to serve to protect our nation, our country and our people.”

National Memorial to Native American Veterans
National Memorial to Native American Veterans

The monument was designed by Indigenous artist Harvey Pratt, a Vietnam War veteran from Oklahoma. It is a raised circular statue made of stainless steel surrounded by prayer clothes. It also includes water features for ceremonies.

As part of the ceremony, the Indigenous veterans processed on the National Mall. During the event, Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, a Navy reservist, spoke about the “special patriotism” of Native veterans.

National Memorial to Native American Veterans

“The US government has not always treated Native Americans with the respect and equality they deserve,” Sullivan said in a speech. “Given that history, it would have been normal, even reasonable, that Native Americans, over the decades, as they were called up and fought and died for America, might have said, ‘No thanks.'”

“But that wasn’t the reaction, on the contrary, it was the opposite,” he said.

Cleveland said he hopes the day’s dedication will shed light on the high rate of Native Americans who have served in the US military and inspire policies to better support veterans.

“The nation will understand that there is a tremendous amount of Alaskan Indian and Native American veterans out there,” he said. “And then, hopefully with that understanding, they realize that they might be better off trying to help some of our veterans, wherever they may be.”

National Memorial to Native American Veterans

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Reporter Riley Rogerson is a full-time reporter for ADN based in Washington, DC. Her position is supported by Report for America, which is working to fill gaps in reporting across America and to place a new generation of journalists in community news organizations across the country. Report for America, which is funded by both private and public donors, pays up to 50% of a reporter’s salary. It’s up to the Anchorage Daily News to find the other half through local donors, benefactors, grants, or other fundraising activities.

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