El Reno native Harvey Pratt, honored by his tribe and law-enforcement agencies across the country, didn’t think his work as a display and forensic artist was worthy of something as hallowed as the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.
However, friends and family convinced the award-winning Cheyenne and Arapaho artist to enter the museum’s international competition for designs of a National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington.
His work, called Warriors’ Circle of Honor, was picked last year as the winner out of 413 entrants; ground broke on the memorial in September and its unveiling comes in November on the last remaining space on the National Mall.
“I dreamed about the design, then drew it on a Big Chief tablet,” says Pratt, who grew up in a traditional Cheyenne-Arapaho family. “My dream was to appease all 573 federally recognized tribes through spirituality and ceremony. My design is timeless. If my great-great-grandfather looked at it, he would know what it means. My great-grandchildren will recognize the symbolism.
“I’ve been in a lot of ceremonies with a lot of tribes. They all have certain things in common. I put those basic beliefs together.”
A former Marine who served in Vietnam, Pratt has a law-enforcement career spanning decades; his forensic art has assisted in thousands of cases, including the bombings of the World Trade Center and the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
In Warriors’ Circle of Honor, he included military medallions on the outer walls and placed benches inside the walls so people can meditate and pray. Onto eagle-feather-adorned lances, visitors can tie prayer cloths and the wind can carry their prayers to the Creator.
Pratt, recognized as a traditional Cheyenne peace chief, says the memorial is not just for Natives, but “for all people – for healing and comfort and prayer.”
He says the 14-foot-tall, 50-foot-wide stainless steel, granite and bronze structure symbolizes the circles and cycles of life and seasons. Sacred water makes everything germinate and grow. The eternal fire warms and comforts. Black represents ancestors, yellow the earth, white new beginnings and red the Creator’s power.
For the Veteran’s Day dedication on Nov. 11, more than 30,000 Native American and veteran attendees are expected to move in parade formation to view the memorial, and enjoy concerts and other activities.
Gina Pratt, the artist’s wife and design partner, says they “want to bring Oklahoma talent into [the memorial] as much as possible,” so Harvey Pratt is making the bronze part of the work at the Crucible Art Foundry in Norman. Swanda Brothers in Oklahoma City is making the stainless steel, 12-foot circle of honor and the lances.
Pratt says Butzer Architects and Urbanism, known for its designs for the Oklahoma City National Memorial and OKC’s Skydance Bridge, has been “so instrumental in the whole design and drawings.”
Donations totaling $17 million are needed to build and maintain the memorial; a little more than $12 million has been raised. No tax dollars are involved. To register for the dedication or make a donation to the memorial, go to americanindian.si.edu.