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Traveling Smithsonian exhibit honoring veterans now on display at heritage center

CPN veterans and tribal leadership gather for a ribbon cutting for the NMAI traveling exhibit during Festival 2017.

Natives have participated in every major U.S. military encounter from the Revolutionary War to today’s conflicts in the Middle East. Although, proportionally, Native American military servicemen and women serve at a higher rate than any other ethnic group, their contributions go largely unrecognized. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, along with urging from the United States Congress, works to change that.

Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center is the temporary home of traveling NAMI exhibit Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces.

According to the NMAI website, “Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces tells the remarkable history of the brave American Indian and Alaska Native men and women who have served in the United States military.”

Because the military contributions of Native servicemen and women are so abundant, NMAI announced the National Native American Veterans Memorial, which will be placed on the grounds of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Consultations between NMAI and CPN leadership about constructing the memorial on National Mall grounds went well and culminated in CPN supporting the project monetarily and via historical content contributions.

“The Nation has always valued and upheld a strong relationship with the NMAI and is willing to support worthwhile projects like the memorial,” said CPN Cultural Heritage Center archivist and curator Blake Norton. “Because of the tribe’s continued support of the NMAI and strong commitment to honor Citizen Potawatomi wédasé, which means brave or strong-hearted and is used for warriors and veterans, the CHC was selected as a host of the Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces traveling exhibit, which tribal leaders hosted a ribbon cutting for during the 2017 Family Reunion Festival.”

The Citizen Potawatomi Nation is among hundreds of tribes throughout history who have fought to defend their culture, community and civil rights. Much like our military today, there were many traditional rites and tests a young person had to endure to be granted the title of wédasé, and this rank was respected within and outside the tribe. Potawatomi warriors played an integral role in shaping both the Native landscape and American history.

“From the intertribal conflicts of the distant past to the international wars preserving freedoms, Native communities have and will always adhere to their strong warrior traditions to fight for and defend what is necessary,” Norton said. “Our Veterans Wall of Honor and NMAI’s Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces complement each other in celebrating these stories.”

Visitors can find the exhibit in the cultural center’s long room, which also is the permanent home of CPN’s Veterans Wall of Honor. It also is the location for honorary dinners and gatherings for U.S. veterans through the support and contributions of the CPN Color Guard.

“Our displays serve as a chronological, historical and cultural testament that span traditional warfare before the arrival of Europeans, the Civil and World Wars, Asian conflicts and war on terrorism in the Middle East and throughout the world,” Norton said. “We have worked diligently to honor and exhibit the sacrifices our wédasé have made by telling the story of what it meant to be a Potawatomi warrior. There is much pride in being a Potawatomi warrior.”

The exhibit is on display at CPN’s Cultural Heritage Center in Shawnee, Oklahoma through Jan. 2018. For more information, visit potawatomiheritage.org or call
405-878-5830.