Alaska Native veterans attend dedication of new memorial in Washington

WASHINGTON — William Smith, of Valdez, an Alaska Native veteran who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, joined hundreds of veterans from around the country in Washington, D.C., last Friday to attend the dedication ceremony for the National Native American Veterans Memorial.

Speaking on Thursday night at a gathering at the U.S. Capitol, Smith said, “To me, I’m here with veterans. I got my Alaska veterans here. But when you see us tomorrow, you’ll see how strong the veterans are and how much they appreciate this.”

“It’s all part of the healing process,” he said.

The memorial is located at the National Museum of the American Indian and has a long history. Congress commissioned the memorial in the mid-1990s. But after the structure was finally completed in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed dedication ceremonies.

At long last, Smith and more than 1,500 Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives gathered to dedicate the memorial on Veterans Day in Washington, D.C.

Benno Cleveland, of Fairbanks, who is Inupiaq and served in the Army during the Vietnam War, also attended the dedication, and became emotional talking about the gathering.

“We continue to serve even though sometimes our people have been wronged. But we continue to serve with honor and respect because this is our land and it continues to be our land,” Cleveland said. “We continue to serve to protect our nation, our lands, and our people.”

The memorial was designed by Indigenous artist Harvey Pratt, a Vietnam veteran from Oklahoma. It is an elevated stainless steel circle statue surrounded by prayer clothes.

Cleveland said he hopes the day’s dedication brings light to the high rate of Indigenous people who have served in the military and inspires policy to better support veterans.

“The nation will understand that there’s a tremendous amount of American Indian, Alaska Native veterans out there,” he said. “Maybe with that understanding they realize that they could do a better job of trying to help some of our veterans.”


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