TULSA, Okla. -- TULSA, Okla. - Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort took another step forward in the history books by signing additional memorandums of understanding with American Indians July 8.
Four memorandums, signed by Col. Harmon Stockwell, commanding officer of MCAS Beaufort, and the leaders of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole Nations are the result of a directive ordered by President William J. Clinton in 1994. The directive calls on federal agencies to implement programs that respect tribal sovereignty, deal with tribes on a “government-to-government” basis and consult with tribes when federal actions impact their lands or resources.
The Air Station became the first Marine installation to sign a memorandum of understanding with American Indians when Stockwell traveled to Okemah, Okla., and signed MOUs with the town kings of Thloptlocco, Alabama-Quassarte and Kialegee tribal towns in March.
“What has allowed us to do that is the commitment of our staff and the leaders of the American Indians,” Stockwell said. “This is long overdue. I’m honored to have been a part of the process the last three years. Looking at the process from where we were when this began to where we are now is very special. It has been truly historical.”
Stockwell traveled to Tulsa along with Alice Howard, the Air Station’s Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Officer, and Roberta Hayworth, a cultural anthropologist with the St. Louis district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to present the MOUs regarding inadvertent discovery and intentional excavation of archaeological material to the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes.
The “Five Civilized Tribes” is a term for five American Indian nations that lived in the Southeastern U.S. before their displacement.
“We’ve been working very closely with the tribes to put the MOUs together,” Hayworth said. “Basically it’s a MOU saying the Air Station is going to consult with the tribes and how they are going to do it. The next step after the signings is to complete a standard operating procedure for the Air Station and tribes in the event of a discovery.”
The council’s preservation committee met with Fightertown’s delegation and passed a resolution to sign the MOUs to the council’s executive committee for adoption. The executive committee consists of the leaders of the five nations.
“We’ve entered into MOUs with other installations and I think it’s a good idea,” said Jefferson Keel, lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation. “Like the colonel said, it’s way overdue. We have human remains, burial artifacts and other items all over the country, especially in the Southeastern part of the United States. The sooner we can get these back, returned to us, back to where they belong instead of in cardboard boxes, paper sacks and plastic bags, the better.”
After receiving acceptance from the executive committee, the resolution was presented to the Inter-Tribal Council. The council accepted the resolution with unanimous consent and four of the five tribe leaders signed the MOU.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation chief was unable to be present but is expected to sign in August.
Stockwell presented all five tribes with Marine Corps flags and thanked them for taking part in the process.
“The MOU is not a one-way street, it is a union of sharing and communicating,” Stockwell said.
“Over the past several years we have worked very hard to get to this point. We have reached an agreement that will protect each group’s best interest: their culture and our ability to train and operate.”
The partnerships and friendships created throughout the process may not be recorded in history books, but their effects will be felt for generations, according to Stockwell.
“This is fundamental to the future of our ability to train and protect all of our nations,” Stockwell said. “The heritage of the Marine Corps knows no borders between cultural backgrounds and our defense of America.
“The essence of the MOU is that it protects the American Indian heritage and history that existed in Beaufort long before the Marine Corps.”