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Comanche Nation honors ancestors

FORT SILL, Okla._Wednesday marked a historic day in the Comanche Nation's preservation of their culture and heritage.

The Comanche Indian Agency Cemetery was dedicated during a ceremony at Fort Sill. The cemetery was built near the post in the 1870s for tribal members who lived nearby. But over the years, the post expanded and the graves were covered by sod and concrete when an airstrip was built in 1953. A lengthy battle with the government to uncover the site ensued until 2012 when parts of the airfield were removed to expose the cemetery once again.

Comanche Nation Chairman Wallace Coffey summed it up the best when he said it was like Mother Nature was crying tears of joy because their ancestors were finally honored.

Denise Karty says six of her family members are buried in this cemetery.

"One grave with four children. Four babies. Two are twins and they died of small pox, so they are all buried together and their grave is marked Kate Karty's children, and that is my great grandmother," explained Karty.

Karty says, in a way, this has given the members of her family a voice that was taken away before.

"It is a very important day, because we have got the headstones here and you know it is all about respect. The federal government has finally honored our wishes and allowed us to recognize our deceased," said Karty.

Coffey says when the tribe became aware of where their ancestors were located on Fort Sill, they knew a change had to be made.

"Primarily, whenever the Chinook helicopters were landing on this site here, that just really hurt us in a way that we can't really describe, so we really put an all-out effort to lobby the Pentagon, the secretary of the Army and the cemeteries," explained Coffey.

In November 2013, the Comanche tribe was given a memorandum of agreement from the secretary of cemeteries that the Indian Agency Cemetery would be treated no differently than any other military cemetery.

"I was so elated that it was a commitment that he made. Our ancestors here deserve the same type of consideration as given to [the] unknown, so we feel very humbled because this has occurred and it's finally come to pass," said Coffey.

The grave markers were just installed last month. A temporary driveway was created to the cemetery next to the air field. However, the names of the people buried in more than 20 plots found in the cemetery remain unknown.

This is the oldest cemetery in the history of the tribe. Families can now visit between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday to pay their respects.

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