Remembering the sacrifices of First Americans

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Supporters are seeking $10 million for a memorial to honor Indian war veterans

Window Rock, Ariz. – Native Americans have taken part in every war the United States has fought, and Stephen Bowers and Vietnam veteran Jefferson Begay think it’s time they got some national recognition.

“The Vietnam memorial on the National Mall has a white guy, a black guy and a Hispanic guy,” Bowers said. “But where’s the Native?”

INDIAN WAR MEMORIAL PLANNED

An aerial view of the National Mall area in Washington, D.C., shows the location of a planned $80 million center called the Education Center at the Wall. Funding is being sought to include an exhibit at the center to honor First American war veterans.

Bowers, a member of Florida’s Seminole tribe, said when he mentioned the omission to former Seminole Chairman Mitchell Cypress, the chairman told him to “go for it.”

So Bowers has been pushing for a Native memorial on the mall, in Washington, D.C., ever since. He has found some powerful allies over time, but the obstacles to realizing his dream are still daunting.

Resolutions supporting Bowers’ idea have been passed by the U. S. Congress and the National Indian Gaming Association. But the major hurdle will be funding the $10 million project.

Since 2010, Bowers and his wife, Elizabeth, have spearheaded efforts to see a national memorial erected to honor Native Americans.

The original idea was to place the American Indian Veterans Memorial near the Vietnam Memorial, explained Begay, a Navajo from Phoenix. But Congress had passed a law to block any additional memorials on the National Mall, he said.

Bowers said his group met several times with Jan Scruggs, who founded the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund in 1979. The VVMF is planning an $80 million education center, to be located across the street from the Vietnam Wall “in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial,” Bowers said.

“We have been invited to have an exhibit at the center that would honor the ‘First American Veterans’,” Bowers said.

His group has established a working relationship with the Scruggs group for the native memorial to be part of the education center, Bowers added.

Bowers and Begay are behind the “Honoring First Americans Veterans Campaign” to raise funds for the education center.

They have three key objectives.

First is to raise at least $10 million to build the Education Center at The Wall, pledged at the earliest possible opportunity and paid by the end of the campaign on Dec. 30, 2018.

SIGNING COMMEMORATION

Commemorating the signing of an agreement between American Indian Veterans Memorial, Inc., and members of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund group are, from left, Elizabeth Bates, vice presidnet of AIVMI; Traver Kennedy, board member, AIVMI; Jan Scruggs, president of VVMF, Stephen Bowers, president of AIVMI; and Brian Patterson, president of United South and Eastern Tribes, a group of federally recognized tribes whose mission is to enhance the development of such Indian tribes.

Next is to collect 67 missing photographs of First Americans Veterans who fell in the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam conflict, 227 American Indian/Alaskan Native and Pacific Islanders made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. They hailed from 30 states and territories, and served in all branches of the Armed Forces.

Their third objective is to collect photographs and remembrances of American Indian/Alaskan Native and Pacific Islanders who served in America’s wars from the Revolutionary War through today’s conflicts.

For more information on how individuals or tribes can participate in the Honoring First American Veterans Campaign, contact Stephen Bowers, Seminole Tribe of Florida, 6311 Stirling Rd., Hollywood, Fla. 33024, 954-966-6300 ext. 11480, sbowers@semtribe. com. To donate, visit http://aivmi.org/.

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From December 2014.