By BOB PALMER
A design by Oklahoma artist Harvey Pratt who has local ties was unanimously chosen last week by a distinguished selection committee for a new Washington D.C. monument honoring Native American veterans.
Kay Sheyahshe McCann has lived in Marion County with her husband Tony for the past 30 years. McCann’s uncle Pratt, a Cheyenne-Arapaho, was one of five finalists in the competition to design a memorial honoring Native American veterans to be located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Pratt named his concept, “Warriors’ Circle of Honor.”
“My Uncle Harvey lives Guthrie, Oklahoma,” McCann said. “He and his wife Gina retired from Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation. He is a forensic artist, paints and has a website.”
As a boy, Pratt saw the respect his people gave to those who fought for their nation. A U.S. Marine from 1962 to 1965, he was one of the first Native American soldiers to serve in Vietnam. Decades later the Southern Cheyenne Chiefs Lodge made him a Cheyenne Peace Chief.
Situated on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian, the memorial would be dedicated to the spirit, bravery and sacrifice of Native American soldiers across United States history and would serve as a place of solace and communion for Native American veterans and their loved ones.
Writing in Smithsonian.com, Ryan P. Smith described Pratt’s design as utilizing a strong centerpiece.
“Pratt eschews the military emphasis of the star symbol at the core of Wellspring of Valor (another design submission) in favor of a simpler geometric form: the circle.
A fixture in much Native American storytelling, the symbol of the circle—rendered in Pratt’s design in gleaming stainless steel—suggests the cycle of life and death, and the continuity of all things.
“On ceremonial occasions,” Pratt says, “a flame will be ignited at the base of the circle. Veterans, families and others are invited to ‘come to the campfire’ and tell their stories.”
By situating the memorial to look out over the stillness of the nearby Chesapeake Bay wetland landscape, Pratt hopes to foster an environment of peaceful contemplation in which visitors can come together over the stories of those who have served—and share their own.
“This storytelling space, which offers four arcing benches to visitors, is the inner of two concentric circles—beyond it lies a redbrick walkway, on which museumgoers can wander at their own pace and immerse themselves in the circular symbolism. Along this walk, symmetrically spaced, are four lances jutting skyward. While clearly emblematic of military courage, the lances serve another purpose: guests who wish to leave their mark on the memorial are invited to tie prayer cloths to them.
“Beneath the steel circle, which Pratt calls the “Sacred Circle,” is an “intricately carved stone drum,” which will convey the constant pulse of Native American spirit and sacrifice across the breadth of America’s history. It is not strictly somber in its symbolism, however—Pratt hopes visitors will seize on the silent rhythms of the memorial as an invitation to harmonize their experiences. “The drumbeat,” he says, “is a call to gather.”
McCann thinks it would be “a wonderful experience” to someday visit Washington and see the memorial designed by her uncle.
Pratt suggested in a telephone conversation recently, if you do go to the memorial to leave a “prayer cloth.”
“Many cultures have prayer cloths,” Pratt explained. “I incorporated into the design places to leave a prayer cloth. Many believe that when a breeze stirs the cloth, your prayer is offered up again.”
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