(Washington, DC) – According to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), Native Americans serve in the US military at higher rates per capita than any other ethnic group. That is an especially interesting statistic considering Native Americans weren’t allowed to become US citizens until 1924, not to mention that Indigenous nations actively fought against the United States until long after the American Revolution. Nevertheless, Native Americans who served and are serving have built a proud tradition around their service to the United States, and veterans are honored at most ceremonial events. Now, they will also be honored by a monument on the National Mall – and it’s possible that monument will be designed by a Native artist.
Three Native American artists, all based in Oklahoma, are among the finalists selected to design the National Native American Veterans Memorial. The design team of Daniel SaSuWeh Jones (Ponca) and Enoch Kelly Haney (Seminole) and individual artist Harvey Pratt (Cheyenne-Arapaho) are among the finalists. Also selected are Leroy Transfield (Māori: Ngai Tahu/Ngati Toa), originally from New Zealand and now based in Orem, Utah; James Dinh, who is based in Los Angeles, California; and Stefanie Rocknak, who is based in Oneonta, New York.
Jones, whose art is signed SaSuWeh (his Ponca name), is an artist, writer, producer, and former chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma. He also designed a bronze sculpture that will commemorate the country music artist Merle Haggard in his hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma.
Haney, a sculptor and artist, has served a chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and served three terms in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He is an Oklahoma State Senator. His bronze statue, The Guardian, is atop the Oklahoma State Capitol dome.
Pratt, a Cheyenne Peace Chief and a painter and sculptor, is also an accomplished forensic artist and retired as the police forensic artist for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
According to an NMAI press release, the museum was commissioned by Congress to build the memorial to give “all Americans the opportunity to learn of the proud and courageous tradition of service by Native Americans in the Armed Forces of the United States.” The museum formed an advisory committee of tribal leaders and Native veterans and conducted 35 community consultations to get input and support for the memorial.
A jury of Native and non-Native American artists, designers and scholars selected finalists from 413 registrations from North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe, followed by 120 completed submissions. The jury is composed of the following people:
- Larry Ulaaq Ahvakana (Iñupiaq), artist, Ahvakana Fine Art
- Stephanie Birdwell (Cherokee Nation), director, Veterans Affairs, Office of Tribal Government Relations
- Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director emerita, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art
- Edwin Fountain, general counsel, American Battle Monuments Commission
- Mark Kawika McKeague (Native Hawaiian), director of cultural planning, Group 70 International Inc.
- Brian McCormack (Nez Perce), principal landscape architect, McCormack Landscape Architecture
- Lillian Pitt (Wasco-Yakima-Warm Springs), artist
- Herman Viola, curator emeritus, Smithsonian
- Kevin Gover (Pawnee), alternate juror, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian
The finalists’ designs will be unveiled at “Meet Your Designers,” a public event on Feb. 7 from 1:30-4:30 p.m. at NMAI in Washington, DC. The designers will have 15 minutes to introduce themselves and share their initial design drawings, and questions from the audience will be addressed at the end. The event will be webcast at http://nmai.si.edu/explore/multimedia/webcasts/.