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Anderson: Powerful Path of Honor brings healing to Native veterans

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Susan Anderson

Susan Anderson

I’ve told a few people about attending the dedication of the veterans Path of Honor on the Wind River Reservation on Aug. 12, but I’ve done a lousy job of it. When they gaze politely, I realize I haven’t come near to capturing the power of the event.

Here’s what would do it — playing my phone recording of the drum circles and shiver-producing Native singing that started and ended the dedication ceremony. Those sounds alone make their own strong statement of place, drawing listeners into the unique world of the Wind River Reservation, one that is both modern and steeped in historic sights and sounds.

The ceremony on a hot, dusty August day marked a very long effort to create a space to honor Native soldiers from the reservation and to do what monuments do at their best — inspire and provide healing. The finished project was a long time coming; it’s been a dream that took nearly 15 years to become reality at the Frank B. Wise Business Center in Fort Washakie.

The monument, designed by Wyoming artist John Cox, is intended to pack an emotional punch. That is what it did for master of ceremonies Scott Ratliff, who said he long-ago came to terms with the bullet wound that damaged his arm in the Vietnam War, but only later began to understand the emotional impact of war. He found a sense of peace and healing when he slowly walked through the evocative monument alone before the official dedication. He hoped many, many veterans would take that opportunity to sit, reflect and heal among the impressive statues.

More than one speaker described PTSD that had gone undiagnosed for years, but now can be addressed publicly, and expressed hope that this particular monument will have an impact for veterans. The Path of Honor is intended to provide a place to rest and reflect.

A red path leads from the east up a gentle slope through four large monoliths in silhouette against the Wind River Mountains to the west. From one side, they are rugged rock, but as you go around them, etched faces and events almost eerily appear from the rock, representing Native soldiers from different eras, along with etched sayings. The power of the art slowly builds as you walk the red path, which is meant to symbolize the courage of following a path of honor and purpose.

The stories and images do their job of catching attention and making the point that Native Americans have served in the U.S. military for more than 200 years. Families who attended the dedication posed for pictures in front of some of the stone images, the kids closely inspecting the scenes on the rock and pointing them out to their parents.

There’s much symbolism in the Path of Honor. Looking back from the end of the path, the four stones appear to form a buffalo. And that’s the point, said Ratliff. “We see it as sort of the same symbol as a warrior. A warrior protects and provides, and so does the buffalo.”

Susan Anderson is a long-time television and print journalist living in Wyoming.


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