TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — Air Force Sustainment Center Commander, Lt. Gen. Lee K. Levy II, was the keynote speaker during the Sovereignty Symposium June 6 at the Skirvin Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City.
Over the last 31 years, the annual symposium has provided a forum in which ideas concerning Indian law can be exchanged in a scholarly, non-adversarial environment.
The event began with a combined presentation of flags featuring members of the Tinker Honor Guard and the Kiowa Black Leggings Society, followed by a parade of flags from the 39 Indian tribes of Oklahoma.
The theme of this year’s symposium was “Infrastructure.” While many activities were centric to roads, bridges and architecture, the general focused on the infrastructure of relationships people have with one another.
“As technologies of the times change, the relationships don’t,” Levy said. “Regardless of what tribe or nation you’re from, you’re bound by an inextricable web of relationships inside your community and across your community. I would offer to you that if that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t be in this room today and this symposium would not have survived 31 years and flourished the way it has.”
The general said though the relationship network is thriving, it is fragile and the technology of today often gets in the way as people go through life with their heads down and eyes focused on their smartphones.
“Don’t let the infrastructure of technology distract us from the most important aspect that no matter who we are or where we come from, we’re in the people business,” Levy said. “Nothing changes that. That’s endured over our entire human existence.”
Quoting one of the five special operations forces truths, “Humans are more important than hardware,” the general said that not only applies to the military, but to all contexts of relationships.
“Hardware will fail, the physical infrastructure may crumble, but the network of relationships will be what causes us to either thrive and survive or to vanish,” he said. “It’s interesting because you don’t know where those relationships are going to take you or how they’re going to endure.”
Levy then told the story of Maj. Gen. Clarence L. Tinker, a member of the Osage Nation, who was the highest ranking officer to die in World War II. Tinker Air Force Base was named in his honor in 1942. Last year, as the base celebrated its 75th anniversary, General Tinker’s grandson, Phil, returned to Oklahoma on several occasions. Over the course of the year, he not only reconnected with his grandfather’s legacy, he also discovered more about his Osage roots. Levy said though the base’s relationship with the Tinker family had possibly grown cold for a time, it didn’t extinguish and now it thrives.
“The infrastructure of relationships is an amazing thing,” Levy said. “You don’t know where it’s going to go. It’s a spider web that none of us can imagine, that none of us can really fathom and none of us can map out. But if we allow them to wither and die, they’re virtually impossible to restore. And that’s the beauty of the Sovereignty Symposium, that’s the beauty of what you do and why you’re in this room.”