Cherokee Veterans to Be Honored With Statue
The spirit and dignity of the Native warrior has always been an important part of our tribal cultures, and it is alive and well today. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Native Americans serve in the military at a higher rate per capita than any other ethnic group. Tribes throughout Indian country will be honoring their veterans this week. The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma plans to host its annual Veterans Day events at the tribal Veterans Center in Tahlequah Thursday, November 10.
Events will include a wreath-laying ceremony and a statue unveiling. The new bronze statue outside the center depicts five life-size soldiers representing each branch of military that Cherokee tribal members have served in since the Civil War. It was created by Cherokee artist Daniel HorseChief, who served in the Navy during Operation Desert Storm. Inside the center is a large, mythical falcon hovering above to protect the soldiers.
“We selected a beautiful and unique sculpture by a renowned Cherokee artisan to grace the outside entrance of the Veterans Center,” said Cherokee Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. “It will inspire and move visitors as they enter our world-class center. The majesty of this piece reflects our respect and admiration of all Cherokee men and women. Their service is important, and we should acknowledge and honor their commitment to serve in the armed forces of our great country.”
Some have questioned why Native Americans serve at such a high rate. Part of it has to do with economics – the military offers an opportunity for soldiers to provide for their families. There is also a certain pride stemming from Native people’s grandparents and parents who served in the U.S. armed services.
“Honoring veterans is part of our Cherokee legacy. We had Cherokee warriors before there was a United States. Notwithstanding things like the Trail of Tears and a lot of the sad chapters in American history, Cherokees have enlisted and served in the military and have served bravely and honorably,” said Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr.
“American Indians have served in the U.S. military in every major conflict since the American Revolution,” said Kevin Gover on a recent trip to visit the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina. Gover is the Director of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. NMAI is making plans to build the National Native American Veterans Memorial on the grounds of NMAI on the National Mall. “If all goes well, we will unveil this on Veteran’s Day 2020.”
It’s estimated there are more than 4,000 Cherokee Nation veterans. The Cherokee Nation Warriors Memorial is a 12-foot tall granite monument that reads in both the Cherokee syllabary and English, “A grateful Cherokee Nation dedicates this memorial to all Cherokee men and women, both living and dead, who have defended their families, their people and their homeland.”
The memorial wall was unveiled last year during Veterans Day ceremonies at the headquarters of the Cherokee Nation (Tahlequah) in which the tribe honored more than 200 of their military veterans and honored four of their decorated military vets with their own tribal Medal of Patriotism for their valiant heroics during Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Cherokees have long served and protected the freedoms of this nation and its citizens, and we cannot say thank you enough to these fearless men and women,” Crittenden said. “It’s important that the Cherokee Nation and its citizens do all we can to honor and show support for those who stepped forward and answered the call to serve, and all those on the front lines today.”
Hoskin made a pertinent reference to the historic standoff taking place on the Standing Rock reservation in the Dakotas, “There is a set of beliefs and principles that have been handed down within our tribal people. Warriors are more like protectors in all the tribes. We are trying to protect the people, trying to protect our natural resources. It is handed down in our oral traditions and through our upbringing. It has survived the generations. It reminds us that we still have ancestral homelands to protect.”
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