On Wednesday, July 12 over 100 people including the Honoring Indigenous Veterans Committee, Veterans, family members of Veterans, Tribal leaders, the Tomaquag Team, State and town leaders and the community all came out for the Intertribal Monument Groundbreaking Ceremony at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter, RI.
It was a truly a historic day, as Indigenous veterans are recognized for their contributions, valor and sacrifice. “Indigenous people have the highest number per capita of service in the US Armed Forces”, said Lorén Spears, Tomaquag Museum’s Executive Director. This Groundbreaking Ceremony is bringing to fruition the dream of Charles B. Smith to honor the legacy of our Indigenous veterans.
“My father served in the United States Navy and also is buried in the R.I Veterans Cemetery where I am employed as a Cemetery Specialist. My father fought in three wars including: World War II, the Korean War, and in the Vietnam War. Presently, there is no monument to recognize or acknowledge or honor my father nor any other Native American veterans”. Charles B. Smith Jr., "Snow Bear", Seaconke Wampanoag, Co-Chair
This memorial recognizes the Native Americans who have served with distinction in every major American conflict since the American Revolution. The Ceremony began with Blessings by Reverend Wallace Hazard, Narragansett Prophet and Andre Gaines, Nipmuk cultural Steward Followed by an Honor Song for all who serve, past, present and future by Thawn Harris, Narragansett Culture Bearer.
Representative Camille Vella Wilkinson, member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee spoke regarding her relationship with the Native community, their sacrifice, and her commitment to serve all Rhode Islanders. Lieutenant Commander Kasim Yarn, Director of Veterans Affairs, stated the importance of this monument and the impact it will have for years to come
ensuring Indigenous contributions and service are recognized. There was representation from Senator Reed’s office, Exeter Town Council, Representative Megan Cotter, and tribal dignitaries from across the region.
Maija Hill, Narragansett, who is a Veteran Service Representative for the Department of Veteran Affairs, spoke about her experience as a veteran of the US Army, being the daughter of a US Air Force Korean War Veteran, having her daughter who is currently serving in the Air Force and her son who is a veteran of the Army.
Candyce Testa, Mashantucket Pequot, a veteran of the US Air Force also spoke of the importance of this monument.
Carter A Thomas, Jr., Wampanoag spoke passionately regarding his service, the lack of representation and erasure of Indigenous service and sacrifice. He stressed the importance and historic nature of this monument. He served in the 119th Military Police Company. His overseas assignments included Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq for the Gulf War, later Panama, Hungary, Bosnia, Croatia, Germany, and Kuwait/Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom. His pride for his country, service, and tribal nation was felt by all in attendance. As one person stated, “He brought me to tears”.
The most poignant moment was when six Veterans lead the shovel ceremony and with Alberta Wilcox, 93 year-old Narragansett elder and Army Veteran, put the first shovels to the ground while traditional cedar flute was played by a Mashantucket Pequot youth Rashad Young. All veterans participated in the Groundbreaking ceremony along with dignitaries and the Honoring Indigenous Veterans committee.
To close this unforgettable event, Quanah LaRose, Northern Ute, sang a Veterans Song to honor all Veterans, past, present and future. We are grateful for the service of our Indigenous Veterans for their protection, sacrifice and contributions!
The construction on the Veteran Monument begins now with Douglas Construction and Narragansett Craig Spears Masonry. Stay tuned, the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony will be this September. To support this historic project or
for more information honoringindigenousvets.org or 401-491-9063.