Washington, DC — On June 26, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) announced Cheyenne-Arapaho artist Harvey Pratt’s design, Warrior’s Circle of Honor, as the choice for the National Native American Veterans Memorial. Pratt, who is based in Oklahoma, served in Vietnam with the US Marine Corps and retired as a leading forensic artist with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, for whom he has also created large-scale public artworks.
Back in February, Pratt was one of three Native artists whose design was in the running for the memorial. The others were the design team of Daniel SaSuWeh Jones (Ponca) and Enoch Kelly Haney (Seminole). As part of the decision-making process, Pratt described his design in detail at a public forum at NMAI, explaining the symbolism of each part of the proposed memorial. The jury report that accompanies the announcement cautions that alterations and revisions may be made to the final memorial, which is scheduled for dedication on Veterans Day 2020. It will be located on the north side of the museum.
Here are some details about the memorial:
Sacred Circle: The entire Memorial is designed around the circle, a shape meaningful in many Indigenous traditions. The stainless steel Sacred Circle in the center represents heaven, earth, and the path traveled by Native people who are “honor bound.” Pratt explains that Wind Spirits are able to pass through the Sacred Circle.
Water, Fire and Drum: Pratt calls the bronze and granite center drum “the heartbeat of the memorial.” The red granite basin of water will be lined with river rocks. Pratt explains that water represents purity, cleansing, and reflection. Lava rocks inside the drum will sustain the flame, which represents strength, courage, endurance, and comfort. The jury report suggests that modifications may be required to make the fire and water elements easier to maintain.
Outer Wall: The gray granite outer wall will be in four sections with openings to allow for a meditation space. Each section will feature seals from the five military branches.
Path of Harmony and Warriors Traditional Red Road: Inside the Outer Wall are the sand-colored pavers of the Path of Harmony. Pratt explains that harmony is attained by following the Warriors Red Road, represented outside the wall by red brick pavers.
Legacy Footprints: Footprints made of semiprecious stones ring the top of the outer wall, representing warriors of the past, present, and future. Their colors symbolize the following: White (beginning), Red (power of the Creator), Yellow (Mother Earth), Black (ancestors). The jury questioned the footprints in their inital comments, but they did not say for sure whether they will remain in the final design.
Prayer Cloths: Four lances surround the outer wall, and each has small metal rings along the bottom. Visitors to the memorial can tie cloths there as “a manifestation of prayer, healing, and sacrifice,” Pratt said. The jury suggested exploring “opportunities for various communities to contribute, such as obtaining lances made of wood from different regions.”