According to Pratt, who is Cheyenne and Arapaho, the circle serves as “a symbol of unity among all Native veterans.”

When Harvey Pratt got the call telling him he’d been selected to design a new memorial to Native American veterans in Washington, D.C., he was in shock.

“My wife and I just sat there looking at one another, like, what do we do now? What’s going to happen?” Pratt said.

On Tuesday morning, the National Museum of the American Indian made the public announcement about Pratt’s selection, freeing him to finally share the good news with his community in Oklahoma. He’s a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, and a Southern Cheyenne chief.

Pratt’s design, entitled “Warriors Circle of Honor,” was selected out of an initial pool of 120 submissions. A jury whittled them down to five finalists, and then chose Pratt’s unanimously. The memorial will be located on museum grounds, just off the National Mall.

“Most Americans, and people around the world, are not aware of this very strong tradition of service in the military by Native Americans,” said Rebecca Trautmann, the memorial project curator for the American Indian Museum.

Native people serve in the U.S. Military at a higher per capita rate than any other ethnic group. More than 154,000 Native American veterans are alive today, according to the 2010 census.

Pratt is a veteran himself. He enlisted in the Marines in 1962 after his first year of college (“it wasn’t going well”) and shipped out to Vietnam in the spring of 1963.

He said he made the decision to join the military so that he could follow in the footsteps of his uncle, who served in World War II and the Korean War. “He’d been wounded so many times and has so much shrapnel in his body,” Pratt said. “He just carried on. He’s a real warrior.”

Pratt said he hopes his memorial design will make native veterans who served in any of the military’s five branches feel welcome. “Native people, we’re the same, but we’re different,” he explained.

The memorial is scheduled to break ground next September and open in late 2020. It will center around a stone fountain shaped like a drum, with a large stainless steel circle rising from the center. Visitors will be able to tie prayer clothes onto the four lances that will rise from a circular path around the drum.

The design incorporates symbols and elements common to many native traditions: fire, water, wind, drums, the cardinal points, and the circle shape.

“My whole idea was that it wasn’t a sculptured piece,” Pratt said. “It was something that people could actually walk into and be a part of.”

Talking about the project still makes the retired forensics artist choke up a bit. Pratt worked for decades for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, where he completed thousands of composite and postmortem drawings to help solve crimes. He also paints and creates sculpture inspired by his Native American upbringing.

Congress initially gave the green light for the memorial came in 1994. The total budget for the project is $15 million, which must all be fundraised from private donors. About half of the funds will be used to construct the memorial, and the other half will be designated for outreach, design consultations, maintenance and programming.

“This history is something that’s been overlooked for a long time,” said Trautmann. “This memorial gives us an opportunity to raise awareness of that long and very strong tradition, and to honor these veterans for the sacrifices that they’ve made for their country.”

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