Nikki Symington, a respected writer of Native American issues, wrote the following inspired description of the American Indian Veterans Memorial for release prior to the two-years-ago Groundbreaking Ceremony. Please take the time to read her words; they describe the Memorial and remind us of the often-misunderstood history of the indigenous peoples of the land we call the United States.
“The American Indian Veteran… They answered the call of the brave… Tell me why there has never been a monument to honor them?” Jimmy Ray Sells, 2018.
Standing 12 feet tall, a proud Indian wrapped in the American flag, and carved from bronze, “The Gift,” a sculpture by A. Thomas Schomberg to honor American Indian Veterans, is much more than a monument. It contains the pride and spirit of the Native Warrior, and memories of the flesh and blood lives of more than 100,000 of America’s indigenous patriots from Alaska to Hawaii that served the United States in every military engagement since 1770.
The centerpiece of a memorial in Riverside National Cemetery (RNC), the “Arlington of the West,” in Riverside CA., The Gift and the American Indian Veterans Memorial (AIV Memorial) has been in the making for more than 15 years. A determined, small group of volunteers, who have fought for years to overcome every obstacle are hoping that within the year the work on the installation site will finally be complete. When open to the public, The Gift will take its place among other tributes to honored veterans laid to rest in the cemetery’s hallowed ground.
The Gift stands on a pedestal, overlooking a serene reflecting pond, and nearby it is accompanied by two American Bald Eagles. A lone, stoic warrior, telling untold stories of a proud and resilient people, brought to their knees by European conquers, who none-the-less rise.
Still in storage, awaiting donations to lay the foundation for the statuesque figure, public gathering and landscaping areas, The Gift, like the Indian warrior he represents, is still waiting for his truth to be told.
In contrast to the many public perceptions of indigenous people, the sculpture counters images of drunken Indians, rich casino owners, or old women in blankets, selling trinkets to tourists. It, instead, says, “See me. The forgotten Indian, lost to time’s passage, shunned, demeaned, imprisoned and murdered. I am the proud Warrior Spirit of my ancestors, who defended our lost lands, our reservations and all of America’s people without hesitation or fear for their lives. “
“I stand unconquered, the courageous warrior erased from America’s history. Open your eyes and behold the real Indian – the committed patriot and constant soldier that has always served with the greatest number of volunteers and enlisted personnel than any other group of Americans.”
The Gift tells the story of the Warrior Spirit--the cultural and ancestral heritage that gives Indians the resilience to survive the horrors of removal from their lands and homes, genocide, racial oppression, and economic depression throughout American history. Beginning with the arrival of European colonists, the indigenous people have been traumatized, and struggling with the consequences of poverty and identity loss.
Yet the healing power of Warrior Spirit embodied in The Gift, remains unseen in storage – a definitive metaphor for the Indian veterans, waiting to have their story told.
Much more than an icon or mascot of sports teams, Halloween costumes, or a Thanksgiving myth, the Warrior Spirit that runs through Indian blood flows with fierce love for the land and country, family and community.
The Warrior Spirt, exemplified in The Gift, contains memories of the sacrifices made by elders and ancestors, who struggled to survive.
Two eagle sculptures, the majestic raptor, Americans chose to represent the United States, accompanies the statue. The eagle is sacred to Indians. The wearing of an eagle feather is equally a great honor and grave responsibility. The feathers symbolize leadership, power, and service to community. This is in stark contrast to crowns, titles, money, and mansions that signal other symbols of power. A living thing, the eagle, like the Warrior, is ferocious in protection of its territory. Like, the indigenous people of the past, it hunts to feed its family. Like the Warrior, the eagle is the Creator’s messenger.
The AIV Memorial offers a public and sacred space, where tribal people can gather to share pride, memories, and grief. It’s a sanctuary for the spirit.
To Indian veterans, the memorial honors memories shared with non-tribal brothers and sisters in arms. The Gift, located in the veteran’s cemetery, signifies family born on battle fields, and vanquishing stereotypes born of ignorance and fear. The warrior personified in The Gift is surrounded by memorials to other veterans, and speaks to comradery earned under fire, and blurring of racial divides.
The statement made by the memorial is that Indian veterans have been tested and found worthy of this hallowed resting place, alongside their mates.
A majority of Americans are uneducated about indigenous history or Indian traditions and culture. The memorial represents the proud and resilient legacy of America’s indigenous people, ignored and often maligned by American history. Yesterday’s and today’s Indian, like the stored sculpture, are also out of sight and out of mind, patiently waiting for their stories to be told,
The American Indian Veterans Memorial in Riverside National Cemetery is destined to open eyes and hearts to this valiant and extraordinary history of military service.
There will be a ground-breaking at the RNC at 9:00 a.m. on September 25, 2020, on California’s Native American Day, at the site of the memorial, raising hopes for funding and completion the final phase of The Gift’s long wait and journey to its place of honor. An impressive guest list of invited dignitaries and committee members is included.
Facts about the impressive military service of American Indian Veterans are attached, along with pictures of The Gift; and the American eagles, landing on either side of a walkway that leads to the statue. Pictures and information are available about construction and details of site’s final phases of landscape and public areas surrounding the memorial at AIANveteransmemorial.com.
Also, of significance, the Riverside National Cemetery is on Indian land that was once home to the Cahuilla tribes. Five Indian governments and reservations are located nearby, in Riverside County, with 19 tribal reservations (more in one county than any state) in adjacent San Diego County. California has 109 federally recognized tribal governments. Nearby Los Angeles city has the largest population of urban Indians, making the Riverside National Cemetery geographically centered for American Indian and Alaskan Native Veterans.
American Indian Alaska Native Veterans Memorial Committee (AIANV Memorial Committee) has a story to tell. Not to be confused with the Smithsonian’s National Native American Indians Veterans Memorial, also scheduled to be unveiled for public display on the Mall, in Washington, DC. A worthy and significant statement, honoring Indian Veterans, it, too, represents the reservoir of pride Indian people feel about their warrior guardians, and a desire for public recognition of their patriotism. The AIANV Memorial Committee feels that an east and a west memorial is essential to tell the varied stories of American Indian Veterans. In the east will be a memorial that will reach worldwide guests and honors indigenous Veterans. And, in the west, on the holy grounds of a national cemetery, will be the memorial that honors American Indian Veterans and the men and women with which they served.
The AIV Memorial story is a path that has overcome obstacles such as a lack of government support, and the passing of two of its original leaders; it has twice negotiated agreements and permits with the VA’s National Cemetery Administration, and it has required compromise and an unerring belief that defeat was not inevitable or permanent.
In the end, for the AIANV Memorial Committee, it was faith by the sculptors, landscape architects, loyal volunteers, and Riverside National Cemetery Support Committee Board that the promise of the Warrior Spirit would win out in the end.
Jimmy Ray Sells, Nashville song writer, an “in memorium” member of the AIANV Memorial Committee, in his original song, honoring the AIV Memorial’s monument asks, “Why is there no monument to the American Indian veteran?” He found his answer in the AIV Memorial. Describing The Gift, he sings, “I see a statue of a proud warrior, winter wind and summer rains, standing vigil over all our heroes’ names. A bronze face of courage, a feather in his hair, old glory on his shoulders and on his lips a silent prayer… for the American Indian Veteran.”
We look forward to providing any information, contacts or arrangements you may need. Today, as debates and angry protests revolve around rights and lives that matter, one group is always absent from the dialogue--the original people of the United States. They too deserve to have their stories and struggles shared. For the overlooked American Indian Veterans, the Riverside Memorial is a beginning.
Additional Information about The American Indian Veterans Memorial and donations for its construction can be found at:
The American Indian Alaska Native Veterans Memorial Committee operates in conjunction with the Riverside National Cemetery Support Committee, a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity. Tax ID #33-0722700
American Indian Alaska Native Veterans Memorial Committee, P.O. Box 172, Beaumont, CA 92223, 951-306-5656
Riverside National Cemetery Support Committee, P.O. Box 7519, Redlands, CA 92373, 951-7680-2641