Indigenous art. Indigenous perspectives.

Native American Veterans Memorial finalists present their designs


Washington, DC – Several weeks ago, FAAM posted a story about the artists (three of them Native) whose designs were chosen as possibilities for the National Native American Veterans Memorial to be constructed on the grounds of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). On February 7, the finalists presented their designs at NMAI. You can watch the full presentations on the SmithsonianNMAI YouTube channel.

Below are the finalists, in order of appearance. Click on the links for more detailed drawings and descriptions of the designs.

James Dinh: Wellspring of Valor

Detail from Wellspring of Valor by James Dinh. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

“The concepts that I often examine through my creative work, such as community, place, and history can really be traced back to my family’s experience with displacement,” says Dinh, whose family came to the United States as refugees at the end of the Vietnam War. His father had served as a doctor in the South Vietnamese Armed Forces. “Veterans of the South Vietnamese Armed Forces are really forbidden in the country of their birth to publicly and collectively memorialize their brothers in arms simply because they had fought on the wrong side or on the losing side. Because they can’t memorialize the people that they had fought with, wounds remain unhealed and ghosts from the past still haunt the present. It was with these heavy thoughts that I was inspired to enter [the design competition], for I believe that for a people and country to heal and thrive, it is important to honor everyone, all those men and women who have sacrificed so much, even their lives, to protect their communities, their land, liberty, democracy, and ways of life.” Dinh’s most recent public artwork, Of Two Lineages, is based on a Vietnamese origin story and is located in Westminster, California.

Daniel SaSuWeh Jones (Ponca) and Enoch Kelly Haney (Seminole): We Fight for Our Country!

Detail from We Fight for Our Country! by Daniel SuSuWeh Jones and Enoch Kelly Haney. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Jones explained that they wanted their design to reflect the diversity of Indigenous people. “There was a real challenge in how we would be inclusive of all tribes,” says Jones. “We’ve got 560 tribes in America.” After looking at pictures from the Kiowa Black Leggings Warrior Society], “It donned on us that each of eight regions of [Native Americans], including Hawaiians, can best be represented … by their headdresses, and that’s exactly what we did. You’ll see that each of these headdresses come from various regions. Some, like the warbonnet, are shared by several regions.” Jones has created large bronze icons for the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and is currently working on a sculpture in memory of Merle Haggard with the City of Muskogee and the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Haney, who has served as principal chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and on as an Oklahoma state senator, is the creator of The Guardian, the enormous bronze figure atop the Oklahoma State Capitol.



Harvey Pratt (Cheyenne-Arapaho): Warrior’s Circle of Honor

Detail from Warrior’s Circle of Honor by Harvey Pratt. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Pratt says when he was little, his sisters used to ask why the elders treated the boys better than the girls. “My Aunt Laura said, ‘Those boys are going to have to die for you someday. They’re going to be warriors,” he relays. Seeing the way veterans were honored in his community was part of the reason he joined the Marine Corps, with whom he served in the Vietnam War. “One of the reasons I became interested in making this design for the Native American veterans was because I wanted to represent Native American people and the warrior’s sacred circle,” he says. “When you meet there inside, you can pray and make offerings and burn some sweetgrass or cedar or your medicine, and you make a pledge to your friends … and honor one another and remember,  this place becomes a place of healing and comfort … and when you get in there, you’re going to feel all those prayers and sacrifices that people are going to make. … It’s going to build energy and power, and when you go there, you’re going to feel it. … There’s always a sacred place somewhere where someone did something, and when you’re walking through the woods and you find that spot, you feel it. You feel that sacred spot. That is what I want this to be. Those veterans can come in there and be healed, I hope.” Pratt, who retired as a leading forensic artist, created the seven-foot relief of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) shield and the ongoing OSBI history mural, both located at the OSBI Headquarters.

Stephanie Rocknak: The Enduring Dance

Stephanie Rocknak

Detail from The Enduring Dance by Stephanie Rocknak. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

“I am deeply moved by the significance and importance of this project,” says Rocknak. “A national memorial that celebrates and honors the service, sacrifice, and dedication of Native American veterans as well as their families is long overdue. Our nation stands in need of this tribute.” Rocknak says she “[has]always been interested in Native American culture and the Native American aesthetic, especially the woodwork. In fact, many, if not most of the figures I drew as a child were inspired by Native Americans. This played a role in my choice to major in American Studies at Colby College.” Rocknak’s most well-known recent work is a life-size bronze sculpture of poet and writer Edgar Allan Poe, which was installed in Poe Square in Boston in 2014.

Leroy Transfield (Maori: Ngai Tahu/Ngati Toa): Wall of Legends

Detail from Wall of Legends by Leroy Transfield. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Transfield won the US Mint’s design competition for the 2018 World War I American Veterans Centennial Silver Dollar, which will help fund the World War I Memorial in Washington, DC. He has also designed several local veterans memorial sculptures in cities across Utah, where he is based. Through that experience, he got to know veterans and hear their stories. He says the National Native American Veterans Memorial was meaningful to him, “because of all my experience, both cultural, my experience as a sculptor, and then also my experience with veterans.”

More detailed conceptions of the finalists’ designs will be submitted on May 1, and the winning design will be announced on July 4, 2018. Dedication of the completed memorial will be on Veterans Day (Nov. 11) in 2020.



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