October 24, 2021

Honoring Indigenous Veterans

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The sacrifices made by indigenous people in wartime have been overlooked for too long, say advocates from the Native American tribes in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Charles Smith, Jr., a member of the Seaconke Wampanoags, has launched a fundraising drive to build an intratribal monument at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter.  “I was allotted the land two years ago,” said Smith, who works at the cemetery and whose father is buried there. In his research of the graves, Smith found at least 115 people from 9 different tribes including Narragansett, Nipmuc, Shinnecock, Manissean, Wampanoag, Osage, Pequot, and Pokeanoket.

Smith started a group called Honoring Indigenous Veterans of Turtle Island. So far, $14,000 has been raised for the project. Smith’s father fought in World War Two, Korea, and Vietnam. Smith’s great grandfather was a member of the Narragansett tribe and fought in the Revolutionary War. Smith’s ancestors fought in multiple conflicts going all the way back to King Philip’s War.

The monument will feature the tribal names along with an image of a turtle, which holds great significance for Native Americans. Smith said there will be an archway and cobblestone benches. “We want people who don’t realize that indigenous people have been serving this country since its inception,” said Loren Spears, the Executive Director of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter.

The museum serves to educate the public and promote thoughtful dialogue about indigenous history, culture, arts, and Mother Earth and connect to Native issues of today. The Indigenous Veterans monument is being supported by the museum staff and donors. Spears said the Earth is known as “Turtle Island” among indigenous people of the Northeast. The turtle also signifies the calendar. “There’s 13 squares on a turtle’s back which represents the 13 moons of the year and that represents our 13 Thanksgivings,” Spears explained.

This project is very personal for Smith, who believes it is his destiny to see it come to fruition. “It’s kind of like towards my spirit to get this done, like a visionary dream I had,” Smith added. “It’s very touching to me.”

For more information, visit www.honoringindigenousvets.org.

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