EXETER, R.I. — With about 200 people in attendance, an intertribal monument to Indigenous veterans was unveiled Wednesday evening at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
“We are part of this today, but it’s here for the next generations,” said Lorén Spears, executive director of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter and co-chair of the museum’s Honoring Indigenous Veterans of Turtle Island Committee.
Spears emphasized the importance of representing Indigenous contributions to the nation, from the Revolutionary War to today.
The monument is acknowledging “those from the past, in the present, and those to come in the future, and honoring their valor and sacrifice,” Spears, a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribal Nation, told the Globe Thursday.
Native people have the highest per-capita involvement in all branches of the armed forces, serving at five times the national average, according to Silvermoon Mars LaRose, a member of the Narragansett Tribe and assistant director of the Tomaquag Museum who served on the monument committee.
During the afternoon ceremony that included blessings and songs, Native leaders, veterans, and dignitaries spoke from the heart, Spears said. Perhaps the most touching moment, she said, was when every Indigenous veteran present stood together, with two of the eldest — Alberta Wilcox, 93, a World War II veteran, and Philip Stanton, 91, a Korean War veteran — at the center.
Spears said Stanton spoke about how meaningful it was to him to be honored as a veteran and as an Indigenous veteran. She said it was important to Stanton that the monument had been completed in his lifetime and that he got to see it.
At the ceremony, there was representation from Mohegan, Pequot, Wampanoag, and Nipmuc tribal nations, among others, Spears said.
The monument — a fieldstone arch above a granite monument with a turtle etching, seals representing the branches of the military, and tribal names — was made by Craig Spears Jr. of Craig Spears Masonry, and his crew of masons, all Narragansett, and others.
Behind the arch, a curved wall bench feels “almost like a hug for everyone that would sit there to meditate and reflect and remember,” Lorén Spears said.
The Tomaquag Museum took on the monument project three years ago, during the pandemic, and helped to raise $80,000 for the work, including a $25,000 legislative grant secured by state Representative Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson, a Warwick Democrat. As the museum’s director, 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.
Previous Globe reporting has been included in this story.