Face of Defense: Archaeologist Preserves Base Histories
NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --
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Kish La Pierre, 99th Civil Engineer Squadron archaeologist, sorts through artifacts found by 99th CES archaeologists at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., June 2, 2015. La Pierre’s work ensures Nellis AFB remains a good steward of the local environment. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mikaley Towle
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Kish La Pierre, 99th Civil Engineer Squadron archaeologist, holds part of a necklace fragment found at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., June 2, 2015. The pendant is thought to be made of bone and is one of many artifacts found on Nellis AFB-owned land by base archaeologists. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mikaley Towle
Unlike a base or wing historian, who specializes in records and documents of people’s lives, Kish La Pierre, 99th Civil Engineer Squadron archaeologist, studies the lives people may have led through what they left behind, such as fossils, buildings, markings or human remains.
“I manage Nellis and Creech Air Force Bases, and the Nevada Test and Training Range’s cultural resources,” La Pierre said. “The goal here is to protect and document these resources as U.S. Air Force projects arise.”
Typical resources include World War II or Cold War era buildings and infrastructure, mining sites, and prehistoric archaeological sites -- which includes rock art, stone tool quarries, sacred Native American sites, rock shelters and caves.
“We have approximately three million acres of land that hasn’t been touched for over 50 years,” said Jeff Kirkwood, 99th CES environment assessment section chief. “There are a lot of culturally significant sites on the range that need to stay protected.”
Nellis Air Force Base is mandated by several federal laws to protect the country’s cultural resources.
“As we know, history repeats itself, therefore by studying the past we can prepare for the future in many ways,” La Pierre said. “Plus we preserve and safeguard these resources for future generations to enjoy and study.”
Cataloguing Every Building
Military installations are ever-changing, with new buildings and development potentially colliding with historically significant sites. La Pierre documents every construction project so there’s an official record of changes to the bases she’s responsible for.
“These projects are important for legal purposes first of all, and it is also important because we include the Native Americans on those projects involving prehistoric sites,” La Pierre said. “This gives them a chance to see how their ancestors lived thousands of years ago and it gives them a chance to voice an opinion on how we should be managing resources such as rock art.”
The rock art study gives the chance to record, view and share data with local Native Americans. This data will also protect rock art sites from any disturbances. Rock art sites are automatically eligible for listing on the nation’s register for historic places.
“Our goal is to finish [cataloguing] the buildings and infrastructure projects and define those resources that are eligible to the National Register of Historic Places,” La Pierre said.
According to La Pierre, a management plan is in the works for these resources once they are recorded. From the management plan, she hopes there will be portions of the base that represent the old Nellis and Creech Air Force Bases, so future visitors have the opportunity to look into the base’s past.
“Kish is very passionate, especially when it comes to the Native Americans,” Kirkwood said. “She is willing to share data and why things are significant. The range is very unique because it is entirely shut off from the public and there are items on the range that have been preserved for hundreds if not thousands of years.”
La Pierre is the tribal liaison to 17 Native American tribes who have ties to Nellis and Creech Air Force Bases and the NTTR. Her work allows her to instill and uphold the U.S. Air Force’s culture of climate, trust and respect by allowing access to Native Americans for the purpose of cultural and spiritual matters.
“There are many things that I love about my job. I really enjoy working with the local tribes,” La Pierre said. “They have so much information about the land we manage. Their culture supports a strong oral history, which they have passed down for thousands of years. They have taught us about plant usage for food, medicine and hunting techniques. They have the scoop on desert survival which benefits the military in many ways."