WASHINGTON, D.C. — As memorials for veterans of the Vietnam and other wars have gone up around the National Mall over the years, Native American veterans say they have felt excluded.
None of the figures of service members have looked like them. Robert Holden, deputy director of the National Congress of Native Americans, said the group was told a Hispanic figure in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was supposed to represent not only Hispanics but Native Americans.
But that wasn’t satisfying, he said.
Sen. Brian Schatz announced Thursday that he’s introducing legislation to fulfill a goal of the late-Sen. Daniel K. Inouye[ and retired Sen. Daniel Akaka. The bill would create a national memorial honoring Native American, Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native veterans.
“Per capita Native Americans, including American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians, serve at a higher rate in the Armed Forces that any other group of Americans and have served in all of the nation’s wars since the Revolutionary War,” he said during a press call with Holden and others on Thursday. “Our native veterans have sacrificed their lives for this country and it is important that we recognize their bravery and patriotism with a fitting memorial.”
Fighting for the memorial will no doubt help score points with supporters of Inouye in Schatz’s election battle with Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. She has closely identified herself with the late senator throughout her brief campaign so far as a reminder that Inouye had chosen her, not Schatz, to take over his seat.
The measure would finish the work Inouye and Akaka began in 1994 when they pushed a bill through Congress authorizing fundraising to construct the memorial to placed in the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall.
However, Kevin Gover, director of the museum, said the legislation gave responsibility for raising the money to the National Congress of Native Americans — a small non-profit organization that Holden said didn’t have the ability to undertake the project. The idea languished for decades, until Gover resurrected it last year. The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. John Barrasso, R-WY,, and and Jon Tester, D-Mont., gives the museum the authority to raise the money.
Gover said there’s no price estimate for the memorial and he didn’t know where in the museum it would be placed. The museum will solicit proposals from artists. There are several possible locations, he said, “But artists being who they are may see other places.”
Regardless of where it stands, the memorial would be meaningful for native peoples, said Native Hawaiian veteran Allen Hoe.
“Native Americans, Alaskans, and Hawaiians have a traditional belief in honoring our warriors,” he said.
Hoe, a medic in the Vietnam War, said among the people the memorial would honor is his son — Nainoa Hoe, who died while serving in Iraq in 2005.
In a statement, Robin Puanani Danner, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement President, said: “The memorial will tell a powerful story, especially for the next generation. Similar to Japanese Americans during war time, native peoples share a difficult history with our federal government, and we also share an extraordinary commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy.”
Holden said, “Given that Native American people are not currently acknowledged anywhere in the National Mall, I think Native Americans are seeking that recognition — that native people are true patriots and have been really since the American Revolution.”
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.