September 25 is California’s Native American Day and to celebrate, Riverside National Cemetery is breaking ground on the nation’s first major memorial to honor Indigenous veterans at a national cemetery.
It was 15 years in the making, but now construction will soon begin on a plaza dedicated to Native American, Alaska Native and Pacific Island veterans at Riverside National Cemetery. Sharron Savage, Chairwoman for the American Indian Alaska Native Veterans Memorial Committee says she hopes once it is completed people will be moved by the beauty of the sanctuary with its statue and seating area surrounded by sage.
“I also hope that it will make them think about why the statue is there," said Savage. "The men and women that gave up their land but still fought to protect it as United States citizens, in fact, even before they were citizens.”
Savage describes the statue as a 12 foot tall sculpture of a Native American man draped in an American flag with an expression and posture of both pride and calm.
She says, many people do not realize Native Americans serve in the armed forces at a higher rate than any other group. And during World War I, over 14,000 volunteered to serve despite not being granted U.S. citizenship and after being forcefully removal from their lands by the government.
“The tribes honor their elders and particularly their elder servicemen tremendously," said Savage. "And sometimes that is overlooked in today’s world where the history is so important and it has really never been told significantly in our schools.”
Paul Adkins, Chairman of the Volunteer National Cemetery Support Committee, says the memorial combined with the cemetery’s education partnerships with local schools is designed to inspire learning about this history.
“When you look at the histories of everyone, the Native Americans, the Code Talkers who are interred here, other places too, [we are] trying to inspire the appetite so the kids do more looking at what this history means for our country and our freedoms,” said Adkins.
Adkins says most of all though he hopes veterans see the memorial and feel proud, respected and appreciated.