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Breaking New Ground: Establishing Tribal Veterans Cemeteries
The VA made both history and progress for Veterans recently with the award of the first-ever grant to a tribal organization to establish a Veterans cemetery on tribal lands. I was honored to join Veterans Cemetery Grants Program Director Frank Salvas, members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and other dignitaries Sept. 19 in breaking ground for the RST Sicangu Akicita Owicahe Tribal Veterans Cemetery, near Mission, S.D.
We had fine weather and an excellent turnout for the event, including representation from other area tribes, tribal VA counterparts, the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs and the South Dakota National Guard. Among the highlights for me were the traditional blessing, presentation of the colors by the Sicangu Warrior honor guard, and music provided by an all-Veteran drum group.
In addition to a ceremonial “big check,” I presented greetings to tribal leaders from VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, along with a letter from him to RST President Rodney Bordeaux congratulating the tribe on this significant milestone. The Secretary’s letter thanked the Rosebud Sioux for their leadership in applying for what we hope will be the first of many tribal grants, resulting in greater numbers of deserving Veterans having burial options where they live, and where their ancestors have lived for generations.
The $6,948,365 grant will fund construction of the main entrance, an administration building, a maintenance facility, roads, an assembly area, a committal service shelter, pre-placed crypts, burial areas for cremated remains, traditional burial areas, columbaria for cremated remains, landscaping, a memorial walkway and supporting infrastructure. The project will develop approximately 14.4 acres of a 74-acre parcel on the Rosebud Reservation.
Members of the tribe who are military Veterans with a qualifying discharge, and who have completed a period of active duty service as required by law, may be buried in the Veterans cemetery—along with their spouses and eligible dependent children.
We announced two more grants to tribes late last month, to establish a Veterans cemetery on land belonging to the Yurok Tribe in Humboldt County, Calif. and to expand an existing Veterans cemetery belonging to the Pascua Yaqui Tribe near Tucson, Ariz.
Public Law 109-461, signed into law Dec. 22, 2006, authorized the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to award Veterans cemetery grants to tribal governments in the same manner that they are given to U.S. states and territories. This legislation enables us to meet the burial needs of more Veterans and families nationwide, creating increased access to benefits they have earned through their service and sacrifice.
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