An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

HomeNewsroomNewsArticle Display

Article - Article View

Teaming with tribes: Wing interacts with indigenous groups

Participants discuss installation and tribal relations during the most recent tribal relationship building event, Sept. 13, 2017, in Grand Forks, N.D., hosted by Cavalier Air Force Station, N.D. From left: Jonathan Windy Boy, Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy Reservation; Dawn Hamrick, Environmental Administrator, 10th Space Warning Squadron, CAFS; Capt. Victor Guinn, mission support officer, 10th SWS, CAFS; Lt. Col. Stephen Hobbs, commander, 10th SWS, CAFS; and Alvin Strait, 21st Space Wing Staff Agency director and installation tribal liaison officer. (Courtesy photo)

Participants discuss installation and tribal relations during the most recent tribal relationship building event, Sept. 13, 2017, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, hosted by Cavalier Air Force Station, North Dakota From left: Jonathan Windy Boy, Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy Reservation; Dawn Hamrick, Environmental Administrator, 10th Space Warning Squadron; Capt. Victor Guinn, mission support officer, 10th SWS; Lt. Col. Stephen Hobbs, commander, 10th SWS; and Alvin Strait, 21st Space Wing Staff Agency director and installation tribal liaison officer. (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- When Air Force and Native American tribal cultures intersect there is a plan in place to foster trust and maintain communication for all concerned parties.

Air Force Instruction 90-2002 “directs all echelons to build relationships and conduct consultations with all federally-recognized Indian/Alaskan Native tribes, bands, nations, pueblos or communities as required by federal laws and regulations.”

The 21st Space Wing works with about 30 federally recognized tribes who claim some type of cultural affiliation to land under AF control, said Pamela Miller, Air Force Civic Engineer Center cultural resources media manager for the Midwest Region Peterson Section Installation Support Team.

“We try to get the military and tribal leaders together,” said Miller. “Each tribe is a sovereign nation, so meeting with the leaders is like meeting with the president of a country. I think that is often lost on people.”

Twice a year, as per the AFI, meetings between 21st SW leaders and tribal leaders are held. Miller said the meetings are not formal consultation meetings, but rather government to government relationship building endeavors. More routine tribal consultations may occur as needed.

The most recent relationship building event was held Sept. 13, 2017, in Grand Forks, North Dakota and hosted by Cavalier Air Force Station, North Dakota. Miller and Alvin Strait, 21st SW Wing Staff Agency director and installation tribal liaison officer, other Peterson AFB, AFCEC, Grand Forks AFB and Cavalier AFS were in attendance along with members of nine affiliated tribes.

“From my perspective the meeting was all about building relationships and to discuss issues of mutual interest,” said Strait. “It is crucial we are aware of tribal issues that could impact current and future operations are our bases.”

“This was a highly successful meeting,” Miller said. “It was evident that there is a general desire for more direct tribal involvement with our installations, and that there is value in a regional approach to engagement with our tribal partners.”

The objective of this meeting was to initiate and develop government-to-government relationships with tribes identified as having a history of land use in areas managed by Cavalier AFS. Discussion of protocols for contacting each tribe were planned for incorporation into an Installation Tribal Relations Plan.

The most typical intersections for tribal and Air Force involve natural and cultural resources. Locations of archeological significance or equipment and structures on certain landscapes can drive consultations, as can the use of natural resources. The situations relate to what are called protected tribal resources.

The AFI refers to Department of Defense Instruction 4710.02 to define Protected Tribal Resources. According to these documents Protected Tribal Resources are “those natural resources and properties of traditional or customary religious or cultural importance, either on or off Indian lands, retained by or reserved by or for Indian tribes through treaties, statutes, judicial decisions, or executive orders, including tribal trust resources.”

When such resources, including protected archeological sites, are an issue other organizations can be brought into the mix. Groups like state historical preservation organizations, culturally affected tribes and other stakeholders are often part of the consultation.

Miller said communication can be a challenge during the relationship building meetings and the consultations.

“(Tribal) culture is very different from the Anglo or European American culture,” she said. “Which is one of the reasons we meet, to establish protocols about how to communicate with each other.”

Non-verbal communications like making eye contact or a handshake can be interpreted differently by the two cultures, so Miller said awareness is important. How time is valued by each culture and silence are other aspects of communication that need to be considered when the leaders come together.

“(Tribal leaders) may answer a question with a story,” said Miller. “You have to listen to all the stories told during the meeting. They are telling you the answer, you just have to listen.”

The meetings are beneficial to both groups. When everyone is treated with the same respect it makes for a smoother consultation process, she explained. Tribes were asking for a regulated approach to consultations and relationship building. The Air Force is looking for a regulated approach as well.

“It’s much easier to work with someone when you know them,” Miller said. “It builds trust, the process is streamlined, and there is less complication and misunderstanding.”

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui