• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 17s

Alaska Native veterans give input for national Native American memorial

By Megan Edge 9:25 PM October 21, 2016
FAIRBANKS –

George Bennett Sr. isn’t ashamed to be Alaska Native or a U.S. veteran. Nearly 50 years after he left Vietnam, he’s proud to be both; it’s who he is. It hasn’t always been that way though — he said it took him about 30 years to find a bit of personal peace.

Wearing a Vietnam War veteran baseball cap, Bennett unofficially led a workshop at the Alaska Federation of Native (AFN) convention at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks. He and about a dozen other Alaska Native veterans squished into every chair, nook and cranny of a room too small for the number of attendees.

They gathered at the request of the director of the National Museum of the American Indian, Kevin Gover. Hours earlier, Gover presented at the convention and announced plans to build a National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“Native Americans have served in every conflict from the Revolutionary War to the global war on terrorism,” Gover explained.

Gover said 44,000 Native Americans served in World War II and another 42,000 served in Vietnam. Currently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates more than 31,000 American Indian and Alaska Native people are on active duty — men and women.

Now, he wants to ensure they’re recognized. The memorial is still in the planning stages and he’s looking for input from Native peoples from across the country; including Alaska Native veterans attending AFN.

He listened, nodded and shared parts of his story as Alaska Native veterans attending AFN brainstormed how to bring the memorial to life, in a way that remembers all Native American veterans.

“If I was going through (the memorial), I wouldn’t be praising the material aspect,” Bennett said addressing the room. “I would be looking at it as a highly sacred place and very highly spiritual. I wouldn’t say, ‘I wonder who the artists is that created it.’ I would be talking to the spirit of those veterans who are no longer amongst us.”

Bennett, a 71-year-old Tlingit man from Southeast, fought in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. In combat, he protected those who tried to insult him and his culture with degrading terms. He, like many Native Americans who fought in wars before him, were forced to do some of the dirtier jobs in the military.

He stopped dancing, he stopped singing and he stopped speaking his language. At war, he lost touch with his culture.

“Well you know, sometimes when you get into those things, and you’re in combat, you forget about your own personal identity and you just become what you were trained to do.

“A lot of Native people were ashamed when they came back because they violated their cultural values. Never hurt your fellow human being,” Bennett said.

He also returned to a country divided and protests against the conflict he fought and lost “brothers” in. For those reasons, he struggled.

“Those were dark times,” Bennett said.

He’s come a long way though. He wants Native Americans from across the country to find peace, too. He believes the memorial would be a step in healing for many who share similar stories.

“I think the memorial will be a reminder of who we are and what Native Americans are from a spiritual perspective and who we were before we were in the military,” Bennett said.

If everything goes as planned, the exhibit will open in four years. But before anything moves forward, the veterans at Friday’s workshop want the land to be blessed by Piscataway tribe, whose land is in the U.S. Capitol.

“For me, its kind of like totem poles,” Bennett explained. “They don’t tell you a story, they remind you of one.”

Megan Edge can be reached by email, on Twitter and Facebook.

Latest Stories

  • OJ Simpson granted parole in Nevada robbery

    by Associated Press on Jul 20, 11:00

    LOVELOCK, Nev. (AP) – O.J. Simpson will be paroled after serving nine years in prison for a botched bid to retrieve sports memorabilia in Las Vegas. A Nevada parole board decided Thursday that the 70-year-old former football, TV and movie star will be released in October after serving his minimum term for armed robbery and […]

  • House backs King Cove road in remote Alaska wildlife refuge

    by Associated Press on Jul 20, 10:47

    WASHINGTON (AP) – The House has approved legislation allowing a proposed road through a remote national wildlife refuge in Alaska that was rejected by the Obama administration. A bill approved Thursday would grant a land exchange allowing Alaska to build the road between two rural communities, King Cove and Cold Bay. They sit near the […]

  • News

    Research ships find Bering Sea crab boat in sinking with 6 missing

    by Associated Press on Jul 20, 10:19

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – Federal research ships have found a crab boat that sank with six men on board in the Bering Sea. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the F/V Destination, a 98-foot crab boat that disappeared Feb. 11, was found upright in 250 feet of water off St. George Island. No bodies […]

  • News

    Safeway drug theft puts focus on delayed reporting issues, DEA says

    by Steffi Lee on Jul 20, 8:25

    Drug Enforcement Administration officials say a recent $3 million settlement paid by the Safeway grocery chain, prompted by opioids missing from an Alaska pharmacy, highlights the need for a documented trail of the supply and distribution chain of all medications from pharmacies. The fine settles allegations by the Department of Justice that Safeway did not […]

  • News

    SUV accidentally stuck on South Anchorage tracks struck by train

    by Chris Klint on Jul 20, 5:37

    A sport-utility vehicle was struck by an Alaska Railroad train early Thursday in South Anchorage, police said. No injuries were reported in the collision involving a Chevrolet Blazer just before 2 a.m., according to police dispatchers. The wreck occurred at a railroad crossing on Arctic Boulevard just north of Arctic Spur Road. Police spokesman MJ […]

  • Lifestyle

    STDs on the rise in Alaska

    by KTVA Web Staff on Jul 19, 20:46

    New numbers from the state show sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in Alaska. Alaska already has some of the highest rates in the country. Chlamydia rose half a percent from 2015 to 2016, with about 5,700 new cases reported. Of those cases, 79 percent are from people under the age of 29. Chlamydia […]

  • News

    Assemblyman objects to new shelter downtown

    by Lauren Maxwell on Jul 19, 19:28

    Downtown Assemblyman Christopher Constant said on Wednesday, enough is enough when it comes to putting more services for the homeless downtown. Constant was reacting to a plan to open a new shelter on B Street, also in downtown Anchorage. Anchorage Homeless Coordinator Nancy Burke said the city wants to lease a former halfway house near […]

  • Politics

    Joe Balash gets Federal appointment by Trump administration

    by KTVA Web Staff on Jul 19, 18:50

    President Trump has nominated a key Alaskan to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Land and Mineral management. Wednesday the Trump administration announced the nomination for Joe Balash, chief of staff to Senator Dan Sullivan to take on the job as Secretary of the Interior, Land and Mineral Management. Senator Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks) praises […]