DoD Implements New American Indian, Alaska Native Policy

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — A new policy aimed at guiding DoD's interaction with American Indians and Alaska Natives was presented here Oct. 21 to tribal elders, leaders and delegates at the annual meeting of the National Congress of American Indians.

David R. Oliver Jr., principal deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology, delivered the policy document and a message from Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen to Ron Allen, the congress' president. He said the policy provides guidance to DoD components on addressing tribal concerns related to protected resources, rights and Indian land. Each military service is expected to issue instructions.

He said the policy will help DoD protect and preserve Indian religious practices and sites and accommodate access to and ceremonial use of sacred sites by Indian religious practitioners. It also stresses the confidentiality of site locations.

About 2 million members of nearly 260 federally recognized Indian tribes in the United States are affected. Some of the ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse groups are called bands, nations, pueblos, communities and native villages. About 226 are in Alaska. The rest are spread over 34 other states.

David R. Oliver Jr. presents Defense Secretary William S. Cohen's transmittal memorandum for DoD's American Indian and Alaska Native Policy and a plaque to Ron Allen, president of the National Congress of American Indians. Oliver, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology, discussed the policy Oct. 21 at the congress' annual meeting in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The nation's map is dotted with more than 100 military training sites, mainly in the Southwest and West, and many are co-located with tribal areas, the retired Navy admiral said. "That's one reason Secretary Cohen made the policy -- so the men and women running those areas will know what to do.

"Without a policy and a plan, they won't even know how to start when a problem comes up," he said. "The policy will tell them that consultation must be done prior to impacting Indian rights, lands and resources. It will set up steps to determine whether the consultation is effective, including dispute resolution."

Oliver said DoD has an $8 million budget allocation for "redemption of areas we've bombed during the last 50 years not knowing they were sacred areas."

"To my knowledge, we don't have any problems at the moment," he said. But, he predicted, someone will eventually discover sacred sites that were not previously recognized. "Then we're going to have to negotiate and decide what to do. When sacred sites are discovered, you have to use some sense about how far out you want to restrict jet flyovers or tanks rolling over the area.

"We're trying to set up procedures where good people come to the best conclusion they can," Oliver said. "And when they can't solve a problem locally, they'll bounce it up the chain of command to us at the Pentagon."

Tad McCall, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for environment, safety and health, also attended the Myrtle Beach meeting. He used a 1995 incident at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, to illustrate the types of problems the military has encountered with Indian lands.

"We became aware we were overflying Shoshone and Paiute lands but we didn't have a formal way of communicating with them," said McCall. "So the base commander visited the Shoshone. While he was talking to them, he was overflown and the windows rattled. They said, 'You see what we mean?'

"We held a series of conversations with the tribal chairman, base commander and the attorney representing the Shoshone and Paiute," McCall said. "I met with Indian government representatives and visited their land. We took a helicopter ride and landed in the sacred areas, where they explained their concept for preserving sacred sites and practicing their beliefs.

"We starting mapping all of our air space and overlaid them with tribal lands," he said. "We found out we were flying over tribal lands we didn't know were there. Even though we knew the lands were there, we needed to be more cognizant of the people we were flying over."

Oliver credited the DoD policy to Sherri W. Goodman, deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security. "I'm very proud we were able to develop this policy in close collaboration with interested tribal representatives," she said. "We're grateful for their contribution to the policy development process.

"This new policy is only one step in strengthening our existing working relationships with tribal nations and building new ones." The goal, she added, is for DoD and tribal groups to work out issues to everyone's mutual advantage — to find ways that promote opportunities for all parties.

DoD since April 1997 participated in 13 gatherings of Indian tribes and Alaska Natives entities throughout the nation. Defense officials sought the advice of all federally recognized tribes, the National Congress of American Indians and the National Tribal Environmental Council. The National Congress formed a steering group to help DoD develop a draft policy and to review tribal responses from three mailings.

Oliver said DoD wants to ensure the entire department operates within the framework of a 1994 presidential memorandum directing federal agencies to form government-to-government relationships with federally recognized tribal governments. President Clinton's memorandum also commits the federal government to building more effective day-to-day working relations with tribal governments. 

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