Alaska Senate committee supports Native American veterans memorial

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. will be the site of an American Indian Veterans Memorial. A resolution supporting the memorial cleared an Alaska Senate committee on Tuesday. (Photo by cayusa/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. will be the site of an American Indian Veterans Memorial. A resolution supporting the memorial cleared an Alaska Senate committee on Tuesday. (Photo by cayusa/Flickr Creative Commons)

By Casey Kelly, KTOO News

The Alaska Legislature could join the chorus of voices calling for an American Indian Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. An Alaska Senate committee on Tuesday passed a resolution supporting the project.

Native Americans have fought in every United States military conflict since the Revolutionary War, and have some of the highest per capita service rates of any ethnic group.

Since Alaska became a U.S. territory and later a state, Alaska Natives have served their country as well. During World War II, the Alaska Territorial Guard included more than 6,000 volunteer soldiers from more than 100 communities.

“American Indians have established a long and distinguished legacy of military service,” said Kalyssa Maile, an intern in the office of Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage. ”Senate Joint Resolution 19 affirms the Alaska Legislature’s support of Alaska Native and Native American veterans, and recognizes their great sacrifices for our country.”

Wielechowski sponsored SJR19, approved Tuesday by the Senate State Affairs Committee. He said the American Indian Veterans Memorial is supported by the Alaska Federation of Natives, the National Congress of American Indians and Vietnam Veterans of America, among other groups.

“There were several people that came up from Florida to attend AFN and push for this resolution,” Wielechowski said. “I attended the Vietnam Veterans of America national conference in Florida last year and they were there. I spoke with people there. They were urging us to do this as well.”

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, sponsored Senate Joint Resolution 19, which supports construction of an American Indian Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, sponsored Senate Joint Resolution 19, which supports construction of an American Indian Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Congress approved the Native American Veterans’ Memorial Act in 1994, but the project didn’t go anywhere. Stephen Bowers, a member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and a Vietnam veteran, started lobbying Native American groups to support the memorial in 2011. Bowers says it’s long overdue.

“It’ll mean that finally someone is recognizing the fact that the American Indians fought for this country and against the European invaders back since 1492,” he said.

While Bowers says many supporters want the memorial to be built near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, President Obama late last year signed legislation to place it at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, two miles away. Bowers says the location isn’t as important as getting a memorial concept approved, a process he says will take several years.

“When they built the National Mall, they didn’t make it easy for organizations or for anyone to put a statue or a memorial on the mall,” said Bowers.

He expects the National Museum of the American Indian to sponsor a contest and form a committee to shepherd the project through the design phase.

Senate Joint Resolution 19 now heads to a vote on the floor of the Alaska Senate.

National Memorial to Native American Veterans May Finally Be Built

Indian Country Today Media Network

Amid all the controversy and ugliness associated with the surging push to have NFL team owner Dan Snyder change the widely considered racist name of his Washington, D.C. franchise, something truly positive for Indian country is developing in the U.S. capital.

This week, Congressman Markwayne Mullin introduced H.R. 2319, the Memorial Amendments Act. This follows Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) introducing S. 1046, Native American Veterans’ Memorial Amendments Act of 2013 on May 23.

This legislation amends the Native American Veterans’ Memorial Establishment Act of 1994 to allow the National Museum of the American Indian to construct a memorial to Native Veterans on the museum’s grounds, which is on the National Mall. Current law authorizes a memorial inside the confines of the museum, but there is not sufficient space within the facility to construct a proper tribute to Native American Veterans.

A Cherokee, and a member of the Natural Resources subcommittee on Indian and Alaskan Native Affairs, Mullin noted the importance of the introduction and passage of H.R. 2319.

“Our Native American heritage is one we can take pride in and one we should respectfully honor,” said Mullin, in a press release. “Passage of this legislation is vital to get this project off the ground and get our brave Native Americans who fought for our freedoms the memorial they deserve. I thank my colleagues for their support and look forward to working together as we pay tribute to our Native American veterans.”

Members have shown strong, bipartisan support for H.R. 2319, with 10 cosponsors including Congressman Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) and Congressman Raul Ruiz (D-California). (Senator Schatz’s bill also enjoys bipartisan support, an encouraging sign. The original 1994 memorial legislation too was passed with support from both sides of the aisle.)

“I am pleased to co-sponsor this legislation with Congressman Mullin,” said Cole, who is a member of the Chickasaw Nation. “We both have great pride in our Native American heritage and recognize the importance of sharing that heritage with others. It is high time that the National Museum of the American Indian is able to move forward with the construction of a memorial to honor our veterans on its grounds. This bill facilitates that goal and also approves museum fundraising efforts, paving the way for us to truly recognize those Native Americans who bravely served our country.”

“Throughout American history, Native Americans have served our country with honor and bravery,” said Ruiz. “It is important that we highlight their patriotism and sacrifice with a Native American veterans’ memorial on the National Mall, and I’m proud to join my colleagues in strong bipartisan show of support for this legislation.”

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he supports the bipartisan changes in the Native American Veterans’ Memorial Amendments Act of 2013.

“I respect and admire any man or woman who has donned a uniform and played their role in securing and defending America’s liberties,” Baker said. “The Cherokee people have a deep tradition in American military history. Many fine young men and women have served and to all of them we owe a debt of gratitude. A memorial in D.C. near the National Museum of the American Indian is a fitting tribute and I thank Representative Mullin and the other sponsors for making it a priority. Every one of us has a family member with a veteran’s story. They served and they fought – and many of them died – for the freedoms that we all enjoy today. I hope we keep their history alive.”

To track the progress of Senator Schatz’s bill in Congress, click here.

To track the progress of Representative Mullin’s bill in Congress, click here.

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/06/15/national-memorial-native-american-veterans-may-finally-be-built-149919