'Patriot Nations:' Have you seen the traveling Native American Veteran exhibit?

Elizabeth Howe
September 27, 2019 - 12:58 pm
Native American Veterans



Over last weekend, the Smithsonian officially broke ground on the National Native American Veterans Memorial.

The memorial cost $15 million — but do you know where a lot of that funding came from? 

AP Images for Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

"The whole idea goes back a long, long ways," said Herman Viola, emeritus curator for the Smithsonian. 

Viola has been working with the Smithsonian since 1972 — and he's been collecting the stories of Native American veterans since the very beginning. 

"The first intern program for Indians at the Smithsonian was when I got there around 1973. It was to help tribes develop their historians, archivists, librarians. I ran that program for about ten years for about 75 Indians from 55 tribes," Viola said. "They came for a long time and at first we had very little money for them. Several stayed in my home for two to three months at a time." 

In return, Viola was often invited to stay at the homes of the interns on their reservations. 

"They'd invite me back to their homes on their reservations. We'd spend a few days at their house and they would start telling stories," Viola said. "I suddenly realized there were all these stories that no one had ever recorded. And many of them were military stories."

The stories Viola collected over the years turned into a book and earned him recognition from senators as a subject matter expert.

Warriors in Uniform

So when former Sen. Ben Campbell first got the go-ahead from Congress to begin planning the National Native American Veterans Memorial, he turned to Viola. 

"As part of the initiative to make the public more aware of the memorial and the funding needed, the decision was made to make this exhibit, 'Patriot Nations,' that would go around the country to get interest in the memorial to tell people how they could provide funding for it."

American Indian students from Carlisle Indian Industrial School

Horace Poolaw kneels in front of a P-40 Warhawk. MacDill Field, Tampa, Florida

George Washington peace medal, 1792

Most of the donations came from Native Americans, Viola said, who are far more patriotic than the general public tends to assume. 

"The American people have very little realization how patriotic Indians are and have been," Viola said. "In World War II, if all Americans had volunteered for the military at the rate Indians did there would have been no need for a draft. Tribes sent all of their able-bodied men to fight in that war."

While funding goals have been met and the memorial is under construction, the exhibit will continue to travel across the country to raise awareness about this demographic of veterans. 

"The purpose is to put out to the public the role of Indians in the military, the role they have played, the role they continue to play, and the extreme patriotism and loyalty of the Indian people," Viola said. 

To learn more about the exhibit and its schedule click here

Want to get more connected to the stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.