Veteran’s Tributes Returns after Year of Absence

Christopher Lomahquahu

Gila River Indian News


The Heard Museum once again hosted veterans’ groups from across the state of Arizona during the annual Sunset Tribute to Veterans event on Nov. 11. 


The ceremony – held virtually last year through a pre-recorded message aired on the museum’s Facebook page – was back live and person for 2021.  The event included an art showcase featuring Native veterans who make art representing their tribal culture or service in the military. The Gila River Indian Community’s Ira H. Hayes Post 84 was present to raise the colors, while a drum group and troupe of Hualapai Bird Singers provided a traditional dance.


“It’s a nice to be back here this year,” said Marcus Monenerkit, Director of Community Engagement for the Heard. “It’s good to see everyone here today and we appreciate everyone that has attended this evening’s event.”


Monenerkit said the military service of Native veterans represents an important aspect of indigenous culture past and present, given that Natives serve in the highest numbers in the U.S. armed forces. 


David Roche, the Director and CEO of the museum, thanked Native veterans for their willingness to serve. “Thanks to all of you that are here tonight. We remember and reflect on the outstanding commitments that American Indian veterans and all veterans have made to our nation.” 


Roche said he views it as essential that the museum tell the stories of Native veterans, their sacrifice and what they have given for future generations to revere. 


“Not only do we honor veterans, but we honor their families as well. Veterans families have also played an essential role in our nation’s history,” said Roche. “We remember their sacrifice here tonight and offer our humble thanks to those who remained behind and who so passionately loved and supported the men and women who fought and sometimes gave the ultimate sacrifice to their country.” 


Jamescita Peshlakai, a state Senator and a veteran who represents northern Arizona, spoke about how service for Natives has deeper roots, values centered on the preservation of culture, safety and looking out for their communities at home. She said there is a sense of diversity and camaraderie that brings people together to around those values which accounts for much of why indigenous people serve so often in the armed forces. 


“When we think about service, it’s about protecting our loved ones, protecting our community, what we love and what we are willing to die for, which is the people that we love in our community,” said Peshlakai.


To conclude the evenings event, Peshlakai and Heard staff presented Native veterans with a challenge coin meant to recognize their service and their commitment to keeping their communities’ safe and free.