DURANT, Okla. — Telling the real story and honoring the thousands of Native Americans who served in various U.S. military branches and better educating the public are the goals of the proposed National Native American Veterans Memorial. The project, almost two decades in the making, is being overseen by Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian, who visited Durant Thursday to get input from local Native Americans. Choctaw Chief Gary Batton was on hand to welcome the group.

DURANT, Okla. — Telling the real story and honoring the thousands of Native Americans who served in various U.S. military branches and better educating the public are the goals of the proposed National Native American Veterans Memorial. The project, almost two decades in the making, is being overseen by Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian, who visited Durant Thursday to get input from local Native Americans. Choctaw Chief Gary Batton was on hand to welcome the group.


The Choctaw Nation Community Center was filled nearly to capacity with Native American veterans, their families and members of the Choctaw, Lenape, Pawnee and Chickasaw nations for a meeting on the subject last week. They came to hear Gover discuss the long-awaited monument which, if plans don’t go awry, will be erected on Veterans Day in 2019. Many came to express their ideas and ask questions regarding the memorial.


The monument will be placed in Washington D.C. on the mall next to the National Museum of the American Indian, which is part of the Smithsonian Institute. There will also be permanent and rotating displays inside the museum. Gover explained that after years of work, they have been given a green light to begin getting input from the 533 federally recognized American Indian tribes, as well as those who aren’t federally-recognized, on what they would like to see the memorial become. He stressed, and many in the audience agreed, that the true story of the Native Americans who served in the military from Revolutionary War times up to now, hasn’t been told. The goal of creating the memorial is not just to honor the Native American veterans, but to create an avenue which brings the story to the general public as easily as possible.


"The charter — direction — from Congress is to educate Americans about Native American service," Gover said. "One of the things we’re already doing is working on a tribal banner exhibition. We’ll send copies of that exhibition through the nation to begin to tell this grand story of Native American service."


After getting input from as many tribe members as possible throughout the country, the committee handling the project will create a prospectus outlining the project and its meaning. The committee is being co-chaired by Chickasaw Nation Lt. Governor Jefferson Keel, who was present in Durant, and former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne). The committee will then put out a call worldwide for submissions of artwork for the memorial. A group of veterans who are experts in art and projects of this sort will then choose a top entry and turn it over to Gover for final review and approval.


A number of audience members in Durant spoke Thursday, giving their views and asking questions. Among the ideas were special recognition for female Native American veterans, Vietnam veterans and Native American mothers who lost children in service to the country. Others asked whether all the tribes could submit artwork representing their individual cultures, which could be displayed in some manner at the site. One veteran suggested contacting all the veterans groups associated with the various tribes and using the information they already have to add to an online educational site Gover said was also being discussed.


Gover stressed that all ideas are being considered carefully. He noted that the size of the site on which the monument will be erected won’t allow for displays from every single tribe at the same time, but did say that there was a possibility of rotating flags or other types of items sent in by the tribes. He added that, as the Choctaw Nation was the first stop on the journey to meet with all the tribes, these questions and the details would eventually be ironed out.


"The challenge of this memorial is to tell a story which is very complex," Gover said. "We have to find a way to get that story across (to visitors) in a space that’s not that big … The museum can help people understand not just native American history, but their own history. The story of Native American veterans is central to the story of the United States itself. There’s not some separate thing. Those things are inseparable. Native American history is American history and American history cannot be American history without Native Americans in it."


For more information, go to www.AmericanIndian.si.edu or send an email to NM4I-NativeVeteransMemorial@si.edu.