Implements New American Indian, Alaska Native Policy
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service (1998)
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
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.