- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AP) - Federal, state and tribal officials gathered Thursday to sign a landmark agreement that paves the way for Native American communities around New Mexico to request a temporary halt of low-level military flyovers during special times.

Two years in the making, the memorandum of understanding allows for the state’s 19 pueblos to coordinate with the military when seeking short-term flight restrictions to avoid disruption of sacred ceremonies, feast days or other significant events such as burials.

Under the new program, the first of its kind in the nation, tribal officials can make their requests online, further simplifying the process and providing another avenue for communication between tribes, the state and the federal government.

Acoma Pueblo Gov. Kurt Riley spoke on behalf of the tribal governors, saying low-level flyovers have been a concern for years.

“This MOU (memorandum of understanding) really tries to address the balance that we, as Native Americans, are trying to attempt, a balance between modern acknowledgement of technology and its need for defense as well as preserving our native cultures,” said Riley, a military veteran himself.

Riley along with the governors of Taos and Zuni pueblos, the Taos war chiefs, state officials and a host of top brass from Kirtland Air Force Base attended the signing ceremony on the tarmac outside the 58th Special Operations Wing Hangar. They were surrounded by an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter, an Air Commando tanker and one of the base’s CV-22 Ospreys.

New Mexico National Guard Adjutant Gen. Andrew Salas pointed to the fleet, saying the technology and training that occurs overhead is what has helped to make the U.S. military so dominant.

The agreement, he said, offers the framework to allow that training to continue while respecting the needs and demands of New Mexico’s residents.

Salas suggested the agreement could set a standard for the rest of the nation.

New Mexico Indian Affairs Secretary Kelly Zunie said the tribes had previously tried to work one-on-one with the military. Now, the new system streamlines the process for working with the state Indian Affairs Department and the military in getting requests for flight restrictions or complaints to the appropriate military installations.

“This is only the first step in state, federal, tribal relationship building,” Zunie said.

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