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Archaeologist works to preserve Native American history at Joint Base San Antonio

By Allison Miller | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Nov. 27, 2019

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —

The Joint Base San Antonio area is rich with history ranging from mastodon remains to historical buildings and was even a pathway for early Native American tribes travelling to and from Mexico.

The link between JBSA and Native American history has developed into a relationship with several tribes located around the U.S.

The history and relationships are being preserved by people like Arlan Kalina, a cultural resource manager for archaeology at JBSA and a professional archaeologist since 1980.

“The Comanche, the Mescalero Apache and the Wichita are not from this area, but their grocery store, so to speak, was Mexico,” Kalina said. “They would travel through this area many times, often two or three times a year with large parties and so they have a connection to the land that's called Aboriginal land.”

Aboriginal land is land where tribes may have travelled through or used for resources, but they did not settle there, according to Kalina.

When construction on a new JBSA site begins and an artifact is found, the archaeologists will be called-in to begin research. During this research, the tribes will often be contacted to see if they have any knowledge of that area or what was happening with their tribe during a particular time.

If anything is found that relates to the federally recognized tribes such as grave sites, Kalina will contact the tribes immediately per the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. NAGPRA is a federal law that was enacted in 1990 to establish the ownership of cultural items discovered on federal or tribal land.

“Sometimes it’s knowledge about a particular type of rock that's important for making arrow heads or something. It's important to include them in whatever kind of researches that are done,” Kalina said.

The JBSA archaeological team was instrumental in organizing the first ever tribal conference held at JBSA-Camp Bullis in June. The intent of this conference was to strengthen relationships between the four federally recognized tribes who have connections to JBSA: the Comanche Nation, the Mescalero Apache, the Tonkawa and the Wichita. The conference also enabled the parties to discuss what they would like to do in the event that something significant is found, such as human remains.

“We have that relationship built in such a way that I know who to call (when something is found),” Kalina said.

Later this month, Kalina will be working with the University of Texas at San Antonio Center for Archeological Research on a large project involving 17 new sites located across JBSA. While they are expecting to make several finds during these excavations, they are also trying to determine whether the land needs to be protected or not.

Kalina and his team are currently planning a trip to visit some of the tribes next spring to continue to maintain the relationships they have built and to learn more about the culture and history behind them.