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Air Force Academy Takes Tribal Steps

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Consultation will continue after a series of meetings were held August 9-11 between tribal representatives and the U.S. Air Force Academy in regards to cultural issues concerning Academy lands near Colorado Springs that were “pretty favorable.”

Tribal representatives from eight of the 13 tribes that had been identified as having a history in the area attended the meetings, said Greg Long, the Academy’s representative in the consultation and chief of the 10th Civil Engineer Squadron’s Asset Management Division.

The Academy asked the tribal representatives to help to identify sites of cultural significance on the 18,000-acre installation as part of compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and other federal mandates.

Material on 206 archaeological sites on Academy lands identified as being of possible interest to the tribes and an ethnohistory will be included in NHPA packets distributed to tribes as part of a five-year review period, Long said.

Representatives were from the Jicarilla Apache Nation, Comanche Nation of Oklahoma, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, Apache Nation of Oklahoma, Ute Indian Tribe, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Northern Cheyenne Tribe and Northern Arapaho Tribe.

Also to be included in nation-to-nation consultation with tribes having cultural or historic ties to the area are the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Kiowa Nation of Oklahoma, and the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes.

“We recognize that you have ties to this land that go back many, many centuries, and we are committed to preserving and protecting the many sites to which you find cultural and spiritual connections,” said Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, Academy superintendent, in a press release.

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The consultations represent “the first steps in a long, productive relationship,” Long said of the nation-to-nation talks hosted by Col. Thomas Gibson, commander of the 10th Air Base Wing.

Having consultation was important to the tribes, since they were interested in protecting their lands “and they also wanted to give their input,” Long said by telephone.

Included in the three-day meeting was a visit to Cathedral Rock, a scenic formation identified as eligible for National Register of Historic Places listing and “one of the kinds of sites tribal members would be interested in,” he said.

“Significance may comprise areas passed down through tribal elders, areas where significant events took place or where Native American religious ceremonies were routinely performed,” he said.

Some tribal members had asked that plants used for ceremonial or other purposes be included in the cultural inventory and that request would be honored, he said, noting that “what is significant to one tribe may not be the same to others.”

The memoranda of understanding expected to result from consultation will focus on when the Academy should consult with tribal leaders before initiating construction projects, Long said.

Consultations among the Academy and the tribes concerning cultural and historical resources are mandated not only by the NHPA but also by Executive Order 13175 and Department of Defense instructions that require military staff to establish government-to-government relations with tribes “in a manner that sustains the DOD mission and minimizes effects on protected tribal resources,” according to an Academy press release.