On July 23, Deputy Chief Crittenden of the Cherokee Nation testified before the House Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs in Washington D.C. to support a bill sponsored by Cherokee citizen U.S. Representative Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) to amend the Native American Veterans’ Memorial Establishment Act of 1994.
The new legislation would make it easier to fund and build a national memorial for Native American veterans in Washington D.C., according to Mullin.
If passed, the bill would amend the 1994 act by allowing the National Museum of the American Indian to build the memorial on their grounds rather than inside the museum building.
It also would permit NMAI to take control of the memorial design contest and to share in the fundraising responsibility with the National Congress of the American Indian.
During his testimony, Crittenden emphasized the need for a Native American Veterans’ Memorial in D.C.
“The Native American Veterans’ Memorial is important because Native Americans serve at a higher rate than any other racial group in this country,” he said. “And we serve in the Navy more than any other branch. … Yet, of all the monuments that are in Washington, D.C., none of them stand to recognize Native veterans.”
Crittenden also recounted efforts of the Cherokee Nation to individually recognize their veterans, including honoring three veterans with a Warrior Award every month.
“Recently, upon receiving this award, a veteran told me it had been 44 years since he had served. Not one person outside his family had thanked him,” Crittenden said. “Honoring and taking care of the very people who keep us free is our way of showing appreciation where it is deserved. It’s the right thing to do.”
Crittenden’s testimony highlighted the need to recognize Native American veterans on a national level. He stressed that such recognition is long overdue.
Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, also testified and stressed that the number of Indians who serve in the military should be reason enough for a memorial.
“Though the [American Indian/Alaska Native] population is less than 1 percent of the total U.S. population, they comprise about 1.6 percent of the armed forces,” she said. “In some tribal communities, one out of every 200 adults served in the military. Currently, more than 24,000 active duty military members are [Native American]. These high rates of service reflect a tremendous need – perhaps more than ever – for increased programs and services available for returning tribal veterans.”
When questioned by Representative Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) on why the memorial has had problems moving forward on the previous legislation, Pata stated that the NCAI had run into issues with funding such a large project on their own.
Under the previous 1994 legislation, the memorial would have to be built inside the National Museum of the American Indian, with the design and funding coming solely from the NCAI.
This made the project highly difficult for the NCAI, said Pata. She emphasized the need to partner with the museum where the memorial would be built.
Museum Director Kevin Gover stated that this would be a priority project for NMAI, and that they would move forward with the plans immediately if the legislation were to pass.
Gover said that the construction of the memorial would take anywhere from five to seven years. The first few years, he said, would be dedicated to a design competition, then to fundraising and getting organized. The remaining time would be spent on construction of the memorial.
Representative Mullin stated that heritage is something the Native American community thrives on, and that, “it's important that we put something in place for the generations that are still to come, the ones that we may not ever have an opportunity to have a conversation with, to understand the pride that we’ve had generation after generation after generation, and this is a great opportunity for that to happen.”
The original 1994 bill was sponsored by then-Senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), and John McCain (R-AZ).
Crittenden said that the new legislation would make fundraising easier by allowing the National Museum of the American Indian to accept donations.