NCA partners with tribes to honor Native American traditions and culture
Native Americans serve in the military in numbers far exceeding their proportion of the American population. They have served with distinction in every major conflict for over 200 years. To honor their heritage of service and culture, the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) works with tribes to honor their service and heritage, working together to build and maintain tribal veterans’ cemeteries, those built and maintained by tribes with the support of VA.
The NCA Veterans Cemetery Grant Program allows NCA to partner with states, U.S. territories, and tribes to build and maintain veterans’ cemeteries, providing veterans with more burial options across the country. country.
In addition to our 155 VA National Cemeteries, these State, Territorial and Tribal Cemeteries provide nearly 94% of veterans with access to a Veterans Cemetery within 75 miles of their home.
There are 14 VA-funded cemeteries built and operated by Tribes on Tribal Trust Land. VA works closely with tribal leaders to ensure tribal culture and traditions are honored with design elements and features that reflect each tribe’s unique heritage.
The Sicangu Akicita Owicahe Tribal Veterans Cemetery on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota was one of the first VA-funded tribal cemeteries.
Completed in 2013, the cemetery is built in the shape of a turtle, a symbol of life, longevity and courage in the Lakota culture.
The entrance door is made of four imposing logs, crossed above the head like the frame of a tepee. The internment shelter where services take place is also a large tepee. You’ll see the teepee motif in the entrance hall of the administration building, with massive, bare wooden logs serving as pillars and beams. The circular building symbolizes the cycle of life.
Rather than a bronze plaque bearing President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address (standard at all VA and state veteran cemeteries), this cemetery bears a plaque with a quote from Chief Crazy Horse, the famous chef of the Lakota Sioux War: “My lands are where my parents are buried.
Different cultures, different elements
“When we held a kick-off meeting, the tribal elders [of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe] learned that horses are very sacred to the tribe, and if possible, they would like to build a horse corral at the cemetery,” said George Eisenbach, director of the Veterans Cemetery Grant Program. “The NCA authorized it.”
The All Nations Veterans Cemetery is on the Standing Rock Reservation, which straddles the border of North Dakota and South Dakota. Like the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Cemetery, the entrance to the Veterans of All Nations Cemetery is marked by massive logs erected above the doorway like the frame of a teepee.
Eisenbach says incorporating these cultural elements goes beyond honoring their deceased veterans. They preserve their heritage for future generations.
“They think about the youth of the tribe, how they will look at their history and how they will retain their culture,” Eisenbach added.
At the Seminole Nation and Veterans Memorial in Oklahoma, the flag assembly area features a cultural walk with signs pointing to the Seminole symbols for “warrior”, “honor” and “valour”.
In addition to the military branch seals, a nearby circular bronze plaque honors the Seminole Nation code speakers.
The newest tribal veterans cemetery, the Metlakatla Veterans Memorial Cemetery, opened last July. It stands on the only Indian reservation in the state of Alaska, in the extreme southeast of the state, near Ketchikan.
Like other tribes in the Pacific Northwest, the carved wooden totem is an integral part of their tribal culture. Two totem poles representing Metlakatla warriors stand guard near the flag assembly area.
The NCA looks forward to continuing the partnership with tribal leaders, not only to build more tribal cemeteries for veterans, but also to honor the proud heritage of Native American veterans.