LEECH LAKE-Spencer Whitefeather jolted the crowd to attention.

The boisterous U.S. Marine veteran was one of several speakers who celebrated on Thursday a new cemetery for tribal veterans in Leech Lake, but he was easily the most charged-up about the yearslong project.

"To see it come to fruition today-hoo-rah!" Whitefeather, whose father was wounded in the D-Day landings in Normandy exactly 75 years prior, belted to a crowd of about 150 people. "Leech Lake veterans, Leech Lake people: be proud of this, because I am."

The cemetery is the result of years worth of planning and paper pushing-the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs granted $3.3 million for the project and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe paid another $400,000, according to band staff.

LLBO representative Leroy Staples Fairbanks III speaks with a representative from Pete Stauber’s office after the open house.
LLBO representative Leroy Staples Fairbanks III speaks with a representative from Pete Stauber’s office after the open house.
It's the 12th cemetery for tribal veterans built in the United States or a territory, and the first in Minnesota, and has space for 450 graves and another 100-plus spots for cremains, but tribal leaders said they can expand it to include more. Individual families can decide if they'd like to transfer a relative's remains to the cemetery, which has a gazebo-like structure for services, a columbarium and memorial wall plaza, plus a shaded area for memorial walks.

"Your success here has encouraged other tribal governments to construct veterans cemeteries on their lands throughout Indian country," said George Eisenbach, who heads the VA's cemetery grants program, which put up the bulk of the money for the new one in Leech Lake.

"It means greater number of deserving veterans will soon have burial options where they live and where their ancestors have lived for generations...This land is where your warriors are born, and where their stories begin to take shape, and this cemetery is where they will return when life's battles are done."