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Indigenous Veterans Monument to be unveiled in R.I.

The ceremony will take place at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter on Wednesday

A photo of work in progress on the Indigenous Veterans Monument that will be unveiled on Sept. 20 at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter.Handout

PROVIDENCE — An Indigenous Veterans Monument will be unveiled on Wednesday at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter, R.I.

Native people have the highest per-capita involvement in all branches of the armed forces, serving at five times the national average, said Silvermoon Mars LaRose, a member of the Narragansett Tribe and assistant director of the Tomaquag Museum.

“They serve and they do so proudly,” she said, “and we want to recognize them for their service and honor their contributions through this Veterans Monument Project.”

LaRose, a member of the museum’s Honoring Indigenous Veterans of Turtle Island Committee, said “ayeuteaen” is the word for warrior in the Narragansett language.


“In our community, our warriors are those who give themselves to the service and care for others,” she said. “This monument project will recognize those who have given of themselves to serve this country and represent our tribal communities, to protect Turtle Island, our home and our people.”

Lorén Spears, executive director of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter and co-chair of the monument committee, said it is important to honor the service of the Indigenous people that helped to form this country.

“Literally since the Revolutionary War, we have served in the armed forces, and I think that is an untold story that is often completely overlooked,” she said. “For us, it is really important that they be recognized and honored.”

The monument will recognize Indigenous people from tribal nations such as the Narragansett, Wampanoag, Pequot, Nipmuc, and Osage, Spears said. According to a rendering of the project, the monument will include a fieldstone arch above a granite monument with a turtle etching, seals representing the branches of the military, and tribal names.

Spears, a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribal Nation, said the museum took on the monument project three years ago, during the pandemic, and it helped to raised $80,000 for the work, including a $25,000 legislative grant secured by state Representative Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson, a Warwick Democrat.


Spears said she was approached about the project by Charles B. Smith Sr., a cemetery specialist at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery and co-chair of the monument committee.

”Every nationality in the Rhode Island Veteran Cemetery has a memorial marker stone to commemorate their service that they gave their all for this country,” Smith said on the Honoring Indigenous Veterans website. “Native Americans are the only group that does not have a memorial marker stone.”

Smith, a member of the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribal Nation, said that’s why he founded The Intertribal Monument Project.

“I believe Native American veterans should be honored with a memorial at the Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery because of all nationalities, they have fought in every war this country has ever been in,” Smith said. “My father fought in three wars — World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.”

The ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery at 301 South County Trail in Exeter.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at Follow him @FitzProv.