Veterans cemetery one step closer to reality on Pine Ridge - KOTA Territory News

Veterans cemetery one step closer to reality on Pine Ridge Reservation

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They have the highest per capita service enlistment percentage in the country.

And now - finally - Native American veterans on the Pine Ridge Reservation will have their own veterans cemetery.

Many who live on Pine Ridge say it will honor those veterans who have often been overlooked in their own communities.

After serving with the marines more than two decades ago, Darrel Mesteth still remembers a cold return to life on the reservation.

"When I came back to these boundaries, I hit a wall of prejudice because I was a vet.  My experiences didn't mean nothing," said Mesteth.
 
That's why many of the 4000 vets on Pine Ridge are happy to turn the dirt on the reservation's first veteran's cemetery.
 
"They can have a final resting place at home, they came and served in the United States. They can come back to rest with their families," said Steve Muro, with the Department of Veteran Affairs.
 
"A lot of veterans have said they're very proud we're able to provide this service to them, to do ceremonies. It's a long hardship for them to go to Sturgis," said Elizabeth Jackie Two Bulls, assistant to the Fifth member of the Oglala Sioux Tribal council.
 
Thanks to a six million dollar grant by the U.S. Department of veterans affairs, the cemetery will offer specialized burial services for veterans and their families.

"We will also have a committal and shelter. Native grasses planted there so we can have our ceremonies here. We don't believe in cremation but we did make allowances for families that wanted that," said Two Bulls.

 
Breaking ground on the 15 - acre plot took four years and many believe the process lacked input from many local veterans.
 
"A lot of the older vets were irate because they were not consulted and the majority who were not in that room said they weren't going to be buried here. Right now, they're going to build a cemetery with no occupants," said Mesteth.
 
Regardless of how it got to this point, those who served and their families, say having a place for their loved ones to rest close to home is a sign of appreciation long overdue.

Construction is expected to begin Friday, weather permitting.
The cemetery will feature 260 pre-placed crypts and 40 cremation grave sites.

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