The circle at the center of the next memorial to U.S. veterans represents the cycles of life, nature, the seasons, and the elements. The circle is also the anchor for a special, and highly unique, stage in Washington, D.C.: a space for ceremonies for hundreds of different Native tribes and nations.
Fire and water frame the symbolic infrastructure for the memorial. The circular steel sculpture rises from a central pedestal, which is shaped like a drum; the drum works as a fountain, whose waters will bless sacred ceremonies. A fire at the base of the circle will be lit for Veterans Day and other holidays.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian just announced the winner of the international design contest to create its new monument. The National Native American Veterans Memorial will honor the military service of Native American soldiers who have served in every conflict in U.S. history. The memorial is meant to be an active site for healing, prayer, and storytelling, says Harvey Pratt, the memorial’s designer. The concept is unlike anything else that’s currently on the National Mall.
A jury selected Pratt’s design—dubbed the “Warriors’ Circle of Honor”—from five finalist entries, which in turn emerged from a pool of more than 120 contest submissions. Pratt’s design squares a difficult design brief. The memorial needed to facilitate a potent and reflective experience for veterans and their family members. But it also needed to be legible and meaningful across many different cultures and conflicts.
For his design, Pratt, an Arapaho and Cheyenne Marine Corps veteran, says that he relied on a handful of symbols and conceits to build something essential and, he hopes, transportive. “Of the 650 tribes, we’re all the same, but we’re different,” Pratt says. “We all use those elements, but maybe all a little bit differently.”
Unlike other war memorials in D.C., the National Native American Veterans Memorial does not highlight a specific conflict, but rather an entire people. Many peoples, in fact. The memorial honors all Native American veterans—including American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians—from the Revolutionary War to the present, across all branches of service.
This will be a fitting addition to the National Mall. I’m really looking forward to seeing this completed, and eventually visiting.