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National Native American Veterans Memorial formally dedicated at a ceremony in Washington, D.C

Cynthia Chavez Lamar, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, left, and designer Harvey Pratt of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, right, in front of the National Native American Veterans Memorial on Friday in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Joy Asico/AP)

(CNN) — Hundreds of Native American veterans gathered in Washington D.C. on Friday for the dedication ceremony of the National Museum of the American Indian’s National Native Americans Veterans Memorial.

The dedication ceremony was part of a three-day event honoring Native American veterans, according to a news release from the Smithsonian. The ceremony started with a procession of over 1,500 Native veterans.

“The dedication of this memorial is an opportunity to gather and reflect on the extraordinary service and sacrifice of Native veterans and their families,” Cynthia Chavez Lamar, the museum’s director, said in the release.

The memorial is the first national landmark that focuses on the military contributions of Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians, according to the release. Designed by Native artist and veteran Harvey Pratt, the memorial depicts a circle resting on a carved stove drum. The design also features water for ceremonies, benches for gathering, and lances where visitors can tie prayer cloths.

The dedication ceremony was delayed for two years due to the pandemic, according to CNN affiliate KLTV.

“This country is our county, and our duty is to serve our country,” said veteran and Alabama-Coushatta Tribe member Roland Poncho, according to KLTV. “Especially in Vietnam… out of the 42,000 Native Americans serving in Vietnam, 90% were volunteers.”

“The Native Americans have been placed in different areas where economic development is not possible,” said Poncho. “Over a period of time we have overcome those barriers, and the main thing is being visible and being recognized. This is one more way in which recognition is given.”

The National Museum of the American Indian is also currently showing an exhibition dedicated to Native veterans, called, “Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces.”

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