Fort Riley, Kansas



Fort Riley works with tribes to preserve history

By Season Osterfeld | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | November 17, 2017

     Editor’s Note: This story is part three of a four-part series on the Directorate of Public Works – Environmental Division.

     Before Fort Riley was a post or even a camp, before homesteaders filled the area and began farming, there were the Native American tribes who called the Great Plains their home.

     Today, personnel within the Directorate of Public Works – Environmental Division under the Cultural Resources Program work to uncover, preserve and protect the tribes’ history at Fort Riley.

    Staff communicates with 12 federally recognized tribes on a regular basis, said Theresa De La Garza, historic architect and Cultural Resources Program manager. These tribes include Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe; Kaw Nation of Oklahoma; Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas; Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma; the Osage Nation; Otoe- Missouria Tribe; Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma; Ponca Tribes of Oklahoma and Nebraska; Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation; Wichita and affiliated tribes; and Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska.

      Originally, the Cultural Resources Program received a list of 23 tribes that could have been through Fort Riley, De La Garza said. By reaching out to representatives at each tribe, staff was able to reduce the number down to the 12 they work with today.

     “We reached out to them and let them know where we’re at, what kind of resources we have and then ask if they were interested in knowing about anything further or knowing about what impact they may have on those resources,” she said. “So that’s when we got the ‘nope, we’re fine’ or ‘we’ll leave it to the tribes that are there to look after them,’ so that’s how we got down to the 12 tribes we’re at now.”

     Of those 12 tribes, they work most frequently with the Kaw and Pawnee, who were two of the most prominent tribes in the Fort Riley area before being displaced, De La Garza said.

     “The Kaw and the Pawnee are the two that we have the closest relationship with and they’re the two that would have been here the longest and been the most involved,” she said.

     This effort to preserve and protect Native American history on Department of Defense lands comes from the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which was amended in 1992. Shortly thereafter, installations across the nation began working with tribes to uncover and restore their history.

     “It started with our federal requirements,” De La Garza said. “Most installations were doing that in the late 80s, early 90s. It took a while once the federal laws were passed, for the DoD and then the Army to establish their guidelines.”

     In the years since, multiple agencies have started working together to define, improve and develop these programs. Organizations involved in this effort include the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the National Park Service.

     To manage federal lands, especially military installations, and still preserve the history, studies have been conducted between federal agencies and tribes to determine the best solutions.

     In May of 2005, to support and reinforce the need for relationships between tribes and Cultural Resource Programs, the Best Practices In Historic Preservation study found, “consultation must occur early in the project planning process, both sides must plan ahead for meetings and be informed of the project scope and effect prior to attempting consultation, the parties must engage in a dialogue predicated on mutual respect and understanding of the priorities of the other and the challenges that each face, having a THPO and an Agency Tribal Liaison involved in the process contributes to success, as does having adequate funding for Tribal parties to travel to meetings, and for Agency and Tribal participants to view the site together.’

     “On the other hand, reaching a Memorandum of Agreement was rarely seen as the indicator of success,” the study exert continues. “Both tribes and agencies agreed that building relationships is the goal of a successful consultation and that funds and time spent in consultation reap ongoing benefits and efficiencies for future projects. Although congenial personalities make consultation pleasant, the process is bigger than an individual interaction and can indeed be institutionalized and replicated over time.”

     De La Garza said sites they uncover potentially belonging to a Native American tribe are referred to as prehistoric because of the lack of written record keeping.

     “A lot of it has to do with the lack of information because it’s prehistory and we don’t have things written down,” she said. “So it’s the only thing other than the oral traditions that we have from the tribes themselves and a lot of the artifacts from our installation, they’re from the Konza and they don’t exist anymore, they were sort of the precursor to the Kaw.”

     For some tribes, they are categorized as belonging to “post contact” times, meaning Fort Riley existed when they passed through and they had little to no contact with the land. However, they are still kept involved in the communications and findings.

     “There’s layers of effort,” she said of the process in handling a site. “First we survey and that’s just to locate archeological sites and so we, scientifically or academically, call (the sites) prehistoric and then the historic, which is subdivided between the homesteaders and military. So once we’ve located them we come back through with a more involved process and that’s the evaluation and those will, depending on what we find, the level of artifacts, what kind of diagnostics, that sort of thing, then it can be eligible for the national register as an archeological site.”

      To assist them in finding these sites, De La Garza said they consult with tribes, especially the Osage, to teach them signs to look for like plant life, rock formations and more. These consultations also provide them with a breadth of knowledge on culture and customs they otherwise may not know.

      “Just like with the homesteads,” she said. “If we see an Osage hedge, then that would have been the perimeter of a homestead without even having to look at the records and since we don’t have records from the time the area was occupied by tribes.”

     In some instances, sites of great importance, such a burial sites, have been located. These areas are kept secret and not available to the public to keep them protected, but each time they are located, staff at Fort Riley notify the tribes.

     Artifacts found are cataloged and have their exact location recorded using a GPS. Many are stored in a curated facility at Fort Riley with specialized humidity and temperature control to preserve each one, De La Garza said. When sacred artifacts or remains are found, they are returned to a tribe.

     “If it’s related to a burial and what we call funerary objects, those have a completely different process,” she said. “They’re differentiated because they’re sacred. Just the generic tool and whatnot, if it’s diagnostic or something we find on the surface that could be looted or picked up by somebody, we’ll collect those even at the survey level.’

     “If it’s funerary objects or human remains, we notify the tribes and there’s a repatriation process and because we have burial sites here.”

     When undergoing a repatriation process or return of a sacred artifact, the Cultural Resources Program also assists in providing a secluded and secure area for ceremonies the tribes may need to perform.

     On a personal level, the staff has also assisted an active duty Soldier who was Native American in undergoing a private ceremony. They located an area that met his needs and provided him the seclusion he required until he was complete, De La Garza said.

     “We helped coordinate that so he could have the isolation that he needed in a location that would be beneficial for him,” she said.

     This relationship between Fort Riley and the tribes is one of mutual benefit, De La Garza said. Federal land is protected, especially military installations because of the controlled access to them. This has assisted in protecting the ancestral homes, burial sites and sacred locations and now, the relationship further works toward keeping them secure and documented.

     “For us, it’s beneficial because, one, it’s all part of that general public trust, but then tribal specifically, a lot of them, back to the days of Civil War, even the Revolutionary War, there were a lot of tribal members that were involved in the efforts, so there’s been this (relationship),” she said. “As sort of a respect to the troops that are Native American, to have that level of trust is always good.”

     Above all else though, preserving history is what matters most, de La Garza said.

     “Preserving the history is critical because once it’s lost, we can’t ever get it back,” she said.