FORT SILL, Okla. (Nov. 22, 2023) — Fort Sill welcomed Comanche Nation Elders on Nov. 15 for a tour through the sacred grounds of Apache, Otipoby, Indian Agency, and Chief’s Knoll cemeteries. This visit, integral to the Acts of Healing Project, fostered deeper understanding between the military and Native tribes.
The day's journey, which included a visit to Medicine Bluff and the Fort Sill Museum was a first for many Elders and marked an essential move towards healing and unity. It symbolized a shared commitment to honoring the past as both communities look to a future built on mutual respect and reconciliation.
The Tour was designed with a dual purpose: to honor Native American heritage and to rebuild relationships between the military community and Oklahoma’s indigenous tribes. Tina Parker Emhoolah, a Fort Sill Museum volunteer and direct descendant of Comanche leader Quanah Parker, emphasized the significance of the initiative, “This Tour is a bridge, reconnecting us with our history and allowing the military community to understand our rich cultural legacy.”
Echoing this sentiment, Renea Toahty, director of the Comanche Nation Elders Center, noted, “It’s about bringing our elders closer to their roots and sharing our traditions with others. This Tour is not just a visit to historical sites; it’s a journey back to our ancestors.” Their words underscore the Tour’s deeper commitment to fostering a sense of shared history and renewed friendship.
At each cemetery, the group laid wreaths at the headstones of tribal chiefs. Edmond Nevaquaya, cultural counselor for the Comanche Nation Prevention and Recovery program, shared stories that brought to life the legacies of Comanche chiefs and their ancestors. The Tour led the group to Medicine Bluff and ended at the Fort Sill Museum.
The museum visit began with a shared meal, symbolizing the unity and fellowship between the military and tribal communities. Post-lunch, Dr. Scott Neel, director of the Fort Sill Museum and the Training Support Facility, guided the Elders through a private viewing of tribal artifacts, some of which held stories not heard for generations. “The tour really means a lot to us here at the museum,” Dr. Neel expressed. “It’s an honor to facilitate this reconnection — to see the joy in the Elders’ eyes when they discover pieces of their past thought lost, and to share Oklahoma’s rich history with a wider community.”
Comanche elder Leru Parker found the museum visit particularly moving. “I can’t express how great it’s been,” Parker shared, her voice a blend of awe and nostalgia. “This is my first time at a museum like this, and it reminds me of the spiritual meetings at my grandpa’s house. It’s an embodiment of the unity we shared during those times.” Parker’s words captured the essence of the Tour - a journey that was as much about rediscovering ancestral roots as it was about creating new memories and connections.
The Tour at Fort Sill is a vital bridge between cultures, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation between the military community and the Native American tribes. Tina Parker Emhoolah highlighted the Tour’s role in community engagement and education, "It’s essential for us to share our stories and history with the military community, to foster a mutual respect and understanding.”
As the Tour concluded, Nevaquaya performed a sacred smoke cleansing ritual. As the cedar smoke filled the air, participants were invited to engage in a timeless tradition, symbolizing purification and renewal. Nevaquaya’s gentle guidance through the ritual served as a reminder that the artifacts and stories of those who came before us are not simply echoes of the past but are vital, living pieces of the continuing narrative of the Comanche people.
“To do my part and be proactive for Fort Sill is my hope for a better relationship and better conversations for the future.” Emhoolah said, “Though the past is often painful, we continue to grow and become better in the right moments with the right leaders. The perseverance, fortitude, and resilient spirit of the Native Americans with those who braved a new land to create the greatest country in the world, America.”
They all agreed the Tour left an indelible mark on their hearts. For the Comanche Nation Elders, it was more than a Tour; it was a heartfelt journey through their ancestral history, filled with moments of reflection, learning, and deep emotional connection. This Tour honored the past and set a precedent for future initiatives to promote cultural understanding and mutual respect.