UM Research Center to Celebrate Native American Heritage Month at Air Force Base

November 22, 2017

MISSOULA – “Standing Together” is the theme of this year’s Native American Heritage Month, and the Center of Integrated Research on the Environment at the University of Montana will stand with the Air Force to facilitate three days of conferences and celebrations Tuesday through Thursday, Nov. 28-30, at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas.  

The air base set aside the time to celebrate the rich cultures, traditions and long histories of 17 Native American tribes, acknowledge the important contributions of people who have ties to the land and host tribal consultation conferences.

Austin Blank, CIRE’s logistics and coordination officer, said the event helps the Air Force develop great relationships with the tribes by honoring Native American heritage alongside its mission. 

“It does speak something to our culture as a whole in America, to be able to incorporate both Air Force and United States cultures with the cultures of 17 affiliated tribes at Nellis,” Blank said. “I think it is important to be able to blend them, and events like this help break down past barriers.”

The governor of New York declared the first American Indian Day in 1916. By 1950, several states had established an American Indian Day, and in 1976, President Gerald Ford declared Oct. 10-16 “Native American Awareness Week.” In 1990, President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution of Congress, officially pronouncing November “National American Indian Heritage Month.”  

Native American history has shaped the United States’ identity, and Native American Heritage Month educates the public on the diverse cultures, heritages, art and traditions of different tribes, as well as the challenges Native people have faced and overcome in both the past and present.

The Department of Defense recognizes National Native American Heritage Month annually to honor more than 200 years of service from Native Americans. Nellis AFB has built relationships with 17 tribes, including the Big Pine Paiute, Bishop Paiute, Fort Independence Indian Community of Paiute Indians, Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone, Timbisha Shoshone, Benton Paiute, Duckwater Shoshone, Yomba Shoshone, Ely Shoshone, Chemehuevi Indian, Kaibab Band of Southern Paiutes, Las Vegas Paiute, Moapa Band of Paiutes, Pahrump Paiute, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, Colorado River Indian Tribes and Fort Mojave.

“This year’s theme for the Native American Heritage Month is ‘Standing Together,’” Blank said. “So I think this conference is a model of bringing these organizations together in an effective and productive manner that reaches common goals.”

The base includes Native American consultations whenever military activities might affect tribal resources, rights or lands. CIRE also has undertaken several projects to bridging gaps between Native American tribes and Air Force bases, including an ongoing archaeological survey at Nellis AFB.

CIRE’s multidisciplinary cultural resources team includes professional archaeologists, architectural historians, historic preservation specialists, landscape architects and Native American consultation specialists with expertise in managing the finite and nonrenewable elements of cultural heritage.

“This work has taught me the necessity of working with indigenous Americans to protect cultural heritage and create an interpretive narrative of the past that reflects their knowledge and values,” said Lisa Smith, a CIRE lead investigator on the Nellis AFB archaeological survey.

Smith said that archaeology as a discipline seeks to include aboriginal people, and the work done at Nellis AFB is a wonderful example.

“Working with representatives from 17 Native American tribes, the program is headed by archaeologist Kish La Pierre, and illustrates how to balance resource preservation, regulatory compliance and mission requirements with the needs of the first peoples upon whose traditional territories the base is situated,” Smith said.  

The cultural resource inventories CIRE conducts on the property provide insight into the lives of early Native American ancestors dating back at least 10,000 years.

“Through learning about the deep-rooted connections Native Americans have to the lands, I have come to recognize why tribes have such as huge stake in protecting their heritage and why they deserve to have a place at the table in regard to cultural resource management,” Smith said.

During the upcoming conference, CIRE archaeologists will present an update of their current findings in ongoing projects at Nellis AFB to participating tribal members.

For more information call Mona Nazeri, CIRE media information specialist, at 406-243-2617 or email mona.nazeri@mso.umt.edu.

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Contact: Mona Nazeri, media information specialist, UM Center for Integrated Research on the Environment, 406-243-2617, mona.nazeri@mso.umt.edu.