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Army still threatens sacred site

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FORT SILL, Okla. – The Comanche Nation and the U.S. Army have been battling over a proposed training/service center for the Fort Sill complex that was to be built on Medicine Bluff, a sacred site of not just the Comanche, but also the Kiowas, the Wichitas and the Apaches.

Last year, the Army changed locations after a federal Judge blocked construction and ruled that all four bluffs had to be visible for the spiritual well-being of the Comanche people. The Army can still appeal the ruling, and the Comanche administration believes they will appeal in an attempt to drag out the litigation until the tribe runs out of money.

“We won the federal injunction last year to stop the construction plan, however, and I don’t know what the strategy is on the part of the U.S. Army, but they are trying to give the Comanche Nation a black eye by claiming that we cost the taxpayer all this money,” said William Volker, director of the Comanche Nation’s Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act program. “In the discovery items presented in federal court it clearly gives the dates of when the first warnings went out, from us and from them, and it clearly predates the signing of the contracts.”

According to Volker, the Army had time to cut its ties with the contractors before they had to pay them, but they ignored the warnings and ultimately cost the American taxpayers $650,000.

“There is some very one-sided press out there,” Volker continued. “Basically during the court proceedings we presented an area that involves 58 acres that simply need to be left alone, it just comes too close to the sacred sites. The expenses were all outsourced; I believe they contracted with a Florida firm for this building. When it was apparent we were heading for federal court they had all the bulldozers and earth moving equipment ready. They gave us one date that they were going to start construction and then they upped it by 10 days, just to try to get it done and dig into the ground so it was irreparable.

Thanks to a dear friend who we had go directly to the secretary of the Army and the secretary of Defense, we stopped that motion until we could take legal action in the courts. I went in with a lot of naivety, thinking that the one common ground we, as a warrior culture and the Army, would have would be honor. Silly me; I sat there and watched colonels and high ranking people from Fort Sill sit on the stand and blatantly lie time and time again. There was no honor in the room on their part.”

The battle is not over; the Army can still build close enough to the site to be a distraction to the tribe. “Since it was their fault that we were in federal court, we just wanted them to pay the cost for our attorneys. Fort Sill at one point, before the command changed again, was willing to meet those demands. It was the U.S. Attorney’s office that refused. Now we’re waiting to see if there is a round two. It’s a classic case of the government dragging it out as long as possible. They want it all dismissed, and it’s going to boil down to how much justice we can afford, because the tribe doesn’t have bottomless pockets.”

According to Volker, the tribe has information from within Fort Sill that the current commander wants to “rectify” the mistakes made at Medicine Bluff in the Army’s favor. “He totally disagrees with the judge’s ruling; it’s not good at all. Former garrison commander, Col. Robert S. Bridgford, who was the main problem there, just shifted to another position, the venom is still there at Fort Sill. The army doesn’t agree with the judge’s position. If they want to take it any further, I guess it’s up to them. They have taken the position that they are not going to honor our historic sacred claims here. You win the battle, but it doesn’t mean you’ve won the war.”

Indian Country Today contacted Fort Sill for a comment on Volker’s accusation. Nancy Elliott, chief of the media relations branch of the Fort Sill Public Affairs Office sent the following statement via e-mail: “Because the matter is still in litigation, we have no comment at this time. However, we want to assure you that Fort Sill has always respected Native American religious freedoms and sensitivities, and we will continue to have a high regard for their heritage and customs.”