The design for the first national monument to Native American veterans in Washington came to Harvey Pratt in a dream.
Pratt, a 77-year-old Marine Corps veteran and member of the southern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, woke up with a vision: a steel circle poised above a drum whose surface rippled with water, a flame burning in the circle’s center, the entire structure ringed by a low wall studded with four tall lances. He sat down in his living room in Guthrie, Okla., grabbed a yellow legal pad and started sketching.
After months of work and several revisions, a version of Pratt’s drawing on Tuesday was named the winner of the international contest to design the National Native American Veterans Memorial. An eight-member jury appointed by the National Museum of the American Indian — on whose grounds the memorial will be built — unanimously voted for Pratt’s design, titled “Warriors’ Circle of Honor,” over four other finalists.
“It’s a great honor for me and my family and our team of people that we’ve accumulated to make this happen,” Pratt said in an interview. “I’m so happy for our Native American veterans that they are finally going to be recognized on the Mall in Washington.”
Pratt, an internationally renowned forensic artist who worked with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation for over three decades, said he drew on his experience reconstructing suspects and victims’ faces from witness descriptions to help translate his dream of the monument from his mind to the page. He also relied on his artistic background — Pratt is an accomplished painter and sculptor and previously designed a memorial in Denver that commemorates the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado.
Groundbreaking for the memorial will take place Sept. 21, 2019, and the monument is slated to open in late 2020. Its construction — projected to cost $8 million — will end more than a decade of anticipation: Congress authorized the memorial in 1994, though it did not permit fundraising until 2013.
Museum staff and members of an advisory committee in 2015 began traveling around the country and meeting with tribal leaders and military veterans to solicit their input on the memorial. Two years and 16 states later, the committee developed several guiding principles: The design had to represent and honor all tribes and traditions, recognize the sacrifices of native families, include an element of spirituality, and offer visitors a peaceful place to heal. The contest officially launched in November 2017. By the time the submissions window closed two months later, the jury had received 120 entries.
The jury winnowed the field to five finalists in late January. For the next several months, Pratt worked 16-hour days alongside a team of four — his wife and business manager Gina, his son Nathan, and Hans and Torrey Butzer of Oklahoma-based architectural firm Butzer Architects and Urbanism — to tweak and finalize his design before submitting a revised proposal in May. Pratt said he woke up and went to bed thinking about the memorial.
The jurors wrote in a final report that Pratt’s design is “culturally resolute and spiritually engaging” and fulfills every one of the advisory committee’s directives. The jurors praised the central steel circle in particular, calling it a “universal and inclusive” symbol.
Pratt said the circle — as well as his use of fire and water in the design — was his answer to the “challenge” of ensuring the memorial represents all Native American veterans, from Native Hawaiians to American Indians to Alaska Natives. He structured the monument around items common to many Native American ceremonies, regardless of tribe: beating drums, sacred fires and cleansing water.
The circle is meant to transcend not only tribal affiliation but time itself.
“Indian people saw the circle in the sun and the moon, and they saw it in the weather and they saw it in the seasons and the cycle of life,” Pratt said. “The warrior’s circle of honor is timeless — it will be there 100 years from now and it would mean the same thing.”
There are 573 federally recognized tribes, many of which boast active or former service members. In the 20th century, Native Americans have served in the U.S. military at a higher rate per capita than any other demographic group; more than 31,000 Native American men and women are on active duty. Roughly 140,000 veterans are American Indian or Alaska Native.
“It was definitely a tall order,” Rebecca Trautmann, the project curator for the memorial, said of the request that the design honor members of every single Native American tribe. “But this designer really accomplished it very well.”
Allen Hoe, a Native Hawaiian and Vietnam War veteran who served on the advisory committee, said Pratt’s design was by far his favorite.
“Some of the other submissions tended to try and define one element of a native culture, either the dance, the headgear, et cetera, and it seemed to be inadequate [because] there’s something different in all of the native cultures,” Hoe said. “But I think Pratt’s circle of honor was able to pull all of that together and just go back to the basics.”
Visitors are meant to participate in and “become a part of” the memorial, Pratt said. That’s why he added in the four lances, positioned equidistant from one another around the low wall encircling the monument. He explained that many Native Americans have a tradition of tying small “prayer cloths” around tree branches to make a promise or transmit a prayer for someone. Whenever the wind blows, it carries that prayer out to the person to whom it is dedicated.
Pratt hopes visitors will come, say prayers for others, and tie prayer cloths on the lances, where they can flutter in the Washington wind.
“War mothers can promise to pray and sacrifice for their children, for their grandchildren, their nieces and nephews and ask for their safety,” he said.
Hoe, whose son Nainoa was killed at age 27 in Iraq in 2005, said that he plans to attend the scheduled dedication of the memorial in late 2020 — and that he plans to take along a special Hawaiian prayer cloth called a “kapa,” which is handmade from mulberry bark. He will present the cloth as representative of Native Hawaiian culture.
Then he will tie it to a lance.