Veteran groups, performers and speakers gathered at The Heard Museum’s American Indian National Memorial Monday night to bolster support for indigenous veterans at its event, A Sunset Tribute in Honor of Our Veterans.
The memorial, which is made up of several large sculptures, is the only memorial specifically for Native American veterans of many conflicts, according to the Heard Museum website.
In its fifth official annual sunset tribute event, The Heard Museum opened with a speech from Richard H. Carmona, 17th surgeon general of the United States and distinguished professor at the University of Arizona.
“Of all ethnicities that have served in our uniform services, Native Americans served with the highest percentage based on the population that they come from,” Carmona said in his opening remarks.
Chapter 432 of the Vietnam Veterans of America showed their support by inviting and honoring Native American veterans of Phoenix with pins to commemorate their sacrifice in the Vietnam War.
For Native American veterans, their sacrifice during the war looked different than others. Carmona pointed out that leaving familial communities on the reservation for an entirely different land and society was said no easy task. Native Americans were among veterans who had the highest rates of PTSD coming back from war due to the major contrast between their life on the reservations and their life as war militants, according to the Matsunaga Vietnam Veterans Project, a study Carmona cited.
The challenges Native American veterans faced did not stop Native American veteran Ramon Stanley from looking at his former situation in a positive light.
“I’d like to encourage all the youth to consider serving their country, especially on reservations. I think it will do you a lot of good like it did myself,” Stanley said.
Wanda Wright, director of the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services, spoke about the importance of the Native American presence in the military. She called for the community to observe history by recognizing and honoring the “fact that their warrior community propelled them, even when they weren’t citizens, to go fight for our nation.”
In round tables, Native American veterans of the community reminisced with fellow combatants on the war and its challenges and rewards.
Marcus Monenerkit, community engagement curator for The Heard and the night’s event coordinator, said the goal for the outcome of the event goes beyond honoring veterans.
“We hope to see bridging communities. We have a really diverse event and a diverse audience, so we hope to see people come out, share their experiences and grow,” Monenerkit said.
Correction: November 16, 2016
An earlier version of this story said this was the fourth official tribute event. The story has been updated to show it is the fifth annual tribute.
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