American Indian veterans seek a memorial on Capitol grounds


Since 2005, Erma Vizenor, chair of the White Earth Nation and Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, has been working to secure a memorial for American Indian veterans, many of whom have served in wars as early as the American Revolution.

Her efforts could pay off.

Passed by the House 129-0 Thursday, HF143, sponsored by Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji), would place a plaque honoring Minnesota’s American Indian veterans among other veteran plaques in the Court of Honor on the Capitol grounds. The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council would absorb the memorial expenses.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where Sen. Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook) is the sponsor.

In addition to honoring veterans, the plaque would promote a better understanding of American Indians’ involvement in peacetime and wartime service, Blake Johnson, a lobbyist for the Prairie Island Indian Community said at a House State Government Finance and Veterans Affairs Committee meeting.

“American Indians have served proudly during peacetime and in every one of our nation’s wars and conflicts,” he said. At roughly 30 percent, the largest proportion of American Indians have served in the United States Armed Forces compared to any other group, Vizenor said.

Paul Mandell, principal planner and zoning administrator for the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board, speaking neither for nor against the bill, has cautioned that they are running out of space on the wall with nine spots left.

He said that five plaques have been added in the last five to six years and they have yet to place plaques honoring veterans of the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars.

“It is a concern of ours that we continue to use up our precious space,” he said.

Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) supported the bill at the meeting, adding that it’s important to recognize veterans of all backgrounds.

“My philosophy is a veteran’s a veteran,” he said.