Tribes support creating Native veteran statue on National Mall

By Alysa Landry
Special to the Times

WASHINGTON, June 13, 2013

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A grassroots effort to memorialize American Indian veterans on the National Mall is gaining momentum.

The effort, backed by individual tribes and the National Congress of American Indians, calls for a statue on the National Mall in recognition of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians who have served over the years.

The group opposes Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz's bill that would give control of the statue to the National Museum of the Native American, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution.

"Location matters," said Jefferson Begay, Navajo, a Vietnam veteran and a member of the American Indian Veterans Memorial Initiative. "We want a memorial on the National Mall. American Indian veterans should be commemorated there, alongside our comrades in arms."

A push for a memorial can be traced to the 1980s when the well-known Three Soldiers sculpture was unveiled near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The statue depicts three American soldiers: one white, one black and one Hispanic. The Hispanic figure was meant to represent American Indians and other minorities not specifically memorialized.

That explanation was not satisfying for tribes or individual veterans, especially given the records of Native warriors, who have enlisted in the Armed Forces at a rate much greater than any other ethnicity.

Steven Bowers, a Vietnam veteran and a member of the Seminole Tribe in Florida, is spearheading the effort to erect a new memorial in recognition of the tens of thousands of Natives who have served in the military, including 42,000 during the Vietnam era alone.

"We're not on the mall," Bowers said. "We haven't been recognized."

Schatz's legislation corrects a quirk in a 1994 bill that approved construction of such a memorial but didn't provide funding for it. The bill Schatz introduced May 23 gives the National Museum of the American Indian flexibility to raise funds for the memorial.

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