JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Establishing and strengthening relations between Native American tribes and Joint Base San Antonio officials was the focus of a tribal conference held at JBSA-Camp Bullis June 25-27.
Representatives of three Native American tribes from New Mexico and Oklahoma attended the three-day conference.
On the first day of the conference, members of the Native American tribes visited JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and met with Brig. Gen. Laura L. Lenderman, 502nd Air Base Wing and JBSA commander, and took a tour of the Quadrangle and Fort Sam Houston Museum.
Other locations in the area conference attendees visited were the University of Texas at San Antonio Center for Archeological Research and the Eagles Nest Cave located at JBSA-Camp Bullis.
The tribes that attended the conference are federally recognized tribes and are considered sovereign nations. The tribal conference was the first ever hosted by JBSA and was spearheaded by Arlan Kalina, JBSA archeologist and cultural resources manager.
Dayna Cramer, JBSA chief of environmental conservation and cultural resources manager, said the conference was held to fulfill both an Air Force and Department of Defense requirement that each installation establish relations with representatives of federally recognized tribes and meet with them on an annual basis.
“One of the big goals for this meeting is to establish those relationships, figure out a plan for how we should work together, how we want to maintain those relationships and then how we will proceed whenever there’s things of interest happening on the installation,” Cramer said.
Cramer said those things of interest between JBSA and the tribes include potential new construction or new training activities that could affect Native American archeological resources, cultural properties or burial sites located on JBSA installations.
Archeological sites have been found at JBSA-Camp Bullis, JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, JBSA-Lackland and JBSA-Lackland Annex. Cramer said the sites the tribes would be most interested in are at JBSA-Camp Bullis, some of which contain remains of Native Americans, and sites at JBSA-Lackland Annex, which show that area had been occupied by Native Americans for a long time.
Since there are no federally recognized tribes in Texas, Cramer said the Air Force conducted a nationwide study looking at the associated lands for each of their installations and found that four federally recognized tribes, the Mescalero Apache, the Comanche, the Wichita and the Tonkawa had connections to lands within JBSA.
“This was aboriginal land for them, which means they didn’t necessarily settle here, but they traveled through here or they came through here to collect animals, minerals, plants or raid,” Cramer said.
Kalina said the majority of the items discussed at the conference are included in Air Force Instructions, or AFIs, and that the goal coming from the conference is to affirm previous standard operating procedures for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, and develop new understandings and processes concerning tribal concerns and the mission of JBSA.
NAGPRA is a federal law that requires federal agencies to establish a process to return certain Native American cultural items, including human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects or objects of cultural patrimony, to lineal descendants and culturally affiliated Native American tribes.
Lloyd Heminokeky, elder and spiritual leader for the Comanche Nation in Oklahoma, said the tribal conference was important for his tribe in establishing good relationships with military and JBSA officials. Heminokeky, whose great-great grandfather was a Comanche bandleader, said by establishing relationships with JBSA leaders, the Comanche Nation will be able to have access to areas and places within JBSA where his tribe inhabited long ago.
“The areas that San Antonio is now located in, one of our larger (Comanche) bands was here,” he said. “Yes, the conference plays a big part of our locating possible remains or items that may have existed at that time.”
Larry Brusuelas, a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribal Council in New Mexico, thanked Lenderman and JBSA for hosting the conference and inviting the tribes to participate.
“For a long time, the relations between the general public and Indian reservations have been strained,” Brusuelas said. “So to see the outreach from the military base and other surrounding communities means a lot to the native people. Just the fact you are taking that initiative to move forward with the preservation of a lot of what has been lost and bringing back what hasn’t is so meaningful.”
Kalina said JBSA and tribe representatives will be working on a schedule to decide how often and where future tribal conferences will be held at. He said representatives of the tribes extended an invitation to JBSA staff members to come visit their reservations.
“All in in all it went extremely well,” said Kalina about the conference. “I believe both sides came away with the feeling that each side was receptive to the other party’s concerns and thoughts.”