Death Valley National Park

Death Valley, located in California, is the hottest, driest, and lowest place in the United States. It is an area of sand dunes and wilderness. Non-Indian tourism into this desolate region actually began in 1926 and in 1933 President Herbert Hoover created the Death Valley National Monument by Presidential Executive Order. While some saw this act as the first step in transforming one of the earth’s least hospitable spots into a popular tourist destination, for the Timbisha Shoshone, the aboriginal inhabitants of the area, this action made them landless. While the Timbisha Shoshone were not forced from their traditional homeland, the control over their land (and thus over their lives) was assumed by the National Park Service. Death Valley officially became a National Park in 1994.

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“Stands Like a Porcupine”

In Canada’s Northwest Territories, the mountain area in the South Nahanni River watershed known as Naats’ihch’oh (“Stands Like a Porcupine”) by the Dene-speaking people has become Canada’s 44th National Park. For aboriginal people this is not only an area of outstanding beauty, but also of special spiritual power. While the park was announced in 2008, it was not fully established until August 22, 2012 when the impact and benefit plan was completed with the local Dene and Métis people.  

The new park will be managed in cooperation with the Sahtu Dene and the Métis of the Tulita District. Traditional hunting, fishing, trapping, and spiritual activities are to be allowed in the park. Aboriginal people will contribute to park management and will educate visitors about the region’s natural history and aboriginal peoples.

The South Nahanni River watershed area is home to several endangered species, including woodland caribou and grizzly bears. The area is also known for its moose and Dall sheep. It is also an area which is rich in minerals, so the final boundaries of the park were selected so that most known mineral deposits are outside of the park. While the creation of the new park means that no new mines can be established within the boundaries of the 1,800 square-mile park, existing claims within the park will be respected.

According to Parks Canada:

The South Nahanni River watershed is an incredibly beautiful and ecologically important area in the Northwest Territories. The river starts its journey at its headwaters – the Moose Ponds, in the shadow of Nááts’ihcho’oh (Mount Wilson). The upper part of the watershed accounts for about 1/6th of the Greater Nahanni Ecosystem, and it is important as the source of the river and as habitat for grizzly bear, Dall’s sheep and woodland caribou.

It has long been the home to the Dene and Métis, and it is often the launching area for adventurous visitors to the wilderness. Visitors from the rest of Canada and the world will have the opportunity to see the spectacular landscapes and to hike, canoe, and climb in these new park areas.

The creation of the new park has been met with some criticism. Some people feel that the new park is more about protecting mining interests than in protecting and preserving the environment. Stephen Kakfwi, the former premier of the Northwest Territories says that Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

“has taken the heart right out of it. The middle of it carved out so that mining can happen. That is not a national park. That is a joke.”

Other comments about the park:

“So let me see if I understand this. You create a new arctic national park that leaves 70 per cent of the mineral content of the proposed park outside of the park boundaries and available for mining companies to explore. Sounds to me like you are creating an island refuge and not a viable ecosystem.”

“Exactly my first thought. This park land is protected, while everything surrounding it is scraped away. A weak attempt at trying to balance out the devastation that will occur when the rest of the north is mined. We don’t need this kind of insulting lip service.”

“Not sure what you call it but I call it the best of both worlds”

Dene Spirituality:

Since Naats’ihch’oh plays an important role in Dene spirituality, I thought I would provide some background about the nature of this spirituality.

Among the Dene, individual experience is important in spirituality. Religion is experiential in that a person with a religious experience is considered someone who “knows” rather than as a “believer.”

As with other aboriginal peoples, dreams are an important part of Dene spirituality. However, spiritual power may require more than a single dream. For a person to be considered a prophet or a spiritual leader, others must acknowledge and recognize the power of an individual’s dream. Spiritual leadership is determined by authenticity: the visions and messages must be deemed true.

As with other aboriginal peoples, the vision quest is an important way of gaining spiritual power. During the vision quest, the individual goes alone to a remote place and waits for the vision to come to them. This vision may include songs and rituals. Animals may appear in the vision and provide the seekers with spiritual aid. The animal may appear in its own form or in the guise of a human being.

Dene and Métis:

Dene is often translated as “people” in the Northern Athabascan languages. However, Dene can also be broken into de (“flow” ) and ne (“Mother Earth “). This encompasses the understanding that the Dene people flow from Mother Earth. They are distantly related to the Athabascan-speaking Navajo and Apache in the American Southwest.

The Dene live in the region which they call Denendeh which means “the Creator’s Spirit flows through this Land.” There is an emphasis on living in harmony with the land which is based on respect and knowledge of the land.

The Métis are recognized in Canada as a distinct aboriginal people and are historically the descendents of European fur traders (mostly French and Scots) and indigenous people.

Mount Rushmore

While Europeans tended to build the places they considered to be sacred-churches, statues, memorials-for American Indian people sacred places were often not places constructed by humans, but places which were naturally sacred. In looking at the landscape around them, Indian people did not see a landscape that needed changing, nor did they see it as a landscape which they were to dominate: rather, they saw a landscape filled with living things. The living things within this landscape included the plants and animals, as well as the rivers, the rocks, the mountains, and the hills. Sacred places in the landscape were often portals through which Indian people could make contact with the sacred.

The Black Hills in South Dakota is an area which is historically linked to several tribes, including the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa. As a sacred area, it was used for making contact with the spirit world and obtaining spiritual power. It was here that many Indians conducted ceremonies such as the vision quest, the Sun Dance, and others. It was here that they gathered the sacred medicines-the plants-that they needed for healing and for ceremonial use.

By the 1870s, Americans were spreading rumors that that Black Hills were unoccupied, that they were an area which Indian people did not use. Illegal expeditions into the area somehow ignored all of the Indian hunting parties which they encountered, and which were reported in their journals, and told of an empty area waiting for “development” by non-Indians who would redeem the area from its paganism and make it a part of modern America.

The theft of the Black Hills from the Sioux has been widely reported by both historians and the popular media. The theft, however, involved more than just taking the land: it also involved renaming it. All of the geographic features within the Black Hills had Indian names in 1877, but over the next couple of decades these names were replaced by non-Indian names.

In 1884, New York City attorney Charles E. Rushmore came to the Black Hills to check on legal titles to some properties. On coming back to camp one day, he asked Bill Challis about the name of a mountain. Bill is reported to have replied:

“Never had a name but from now on we’ll call it Rushmore.”

With that offhand comment, the mountain known to the Sioux as Six Grandfathers became Mount Rushmore. The Sioux name had been an important part of their oral tradition and their association with the land. The new name reflected the American lack of concern for the history of the land and the importance of attorneys in their society.

The wealth generated from the gold and the cattle in the Black Hills was not enough to satisfy American greed. By the 1920s, people were looking for new ways of exploiting the Black Hills. In other parts of the country, tourism was proving to be an economic asset, and so, in 1923, Doane Robinson, the South Dakota state historian, came up with an idea to bring tourists (and their money) into the state. His idea was to commission a sculptor to transform one of the tall narrow, granite rock formations in the Black Hills into memorials of major figures from the mythic narrative of the American west. In his vision, he saw giant memorials to heroes such as George Armstrong Custer, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and perhaps the Sioux chief Red Cloud, which would stand along a new highway and lure tourists away from Yellowstone National Park.

The next problem was how to bring the vision into reality. To solve this, Robinson turned to Gutzon Borglum, the son of Danish Mormon immigrants who had made the ten-week trek along the Mormon trail through Indian lands to Salt Lake City. Borglum was one of the most famous sculptors of the time. Borglum had been involved with the carving of a massive bas-relief monument to the heroes of the Confederacy at Stone Mountain, Georgia. Borglum was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and Stone Mountain was used as a site to revitalize the Klan.

Robinson had initially envisioned the carvings on a series of geological features known as “The Needles,” but Borglum found them unsuitable for carving and selected the Six Grandfathers (Mount Rushmore) instead. The new plan was assailed by naturalists who pointed out that it would desecrate the natural beauty of the Black Hills. Robinson replied:

“God only makes a Michelangelo or a Gutzon Borglum once in a thousand years.”

Borglum changed the original vision of the project and proposed a “Shrine of Democracy” which would focus on Presidential portraits. He would later state:

“The purpose of the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.”

In 1926, Borglum began carving the faces of four presidents out of a mountain in the Black Hills, land sacred to the Lakota people. The sculptor, who admired Manifest Destiny and saw the conquest of the Lakota and the theft of their sacred land as justifiable, dedicated the sculptures to the Expansion of the United States. From Borglum’s perspective, Manifest Destiny, an expression of racial superiority, was an expression of the rightful order of the world.

Mt Rushmore 2

The following year, President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the construction of the monument to Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.  While the Black Hills were sacred to the Sioux and other tribes, Coolidge made no mention of Indians in his dedication speech.

In 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the nearly completed monument to Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt at Mount Rushmore. As with the earlier Presidential dedication, the President made no mention of Indians. The general public who read about the new monument, and the tourists who came to it, were oblivious to the fact that Mount Rushmore had once been Indian land, and that it was still sacred to them.

Mt Rushmore 1

From the Indian perspective, the monument at Mount Rushmore was a symbol of the dominant culture’s arrogance, racism, and spiritual insensitivity. Carving icons of Presidents who were known for their insensitivity to Indian issues into a living sacred mountain would be similar to painting anti-Christian graffiti inside of cathedral, or anti-Semitic symbols inside a synagogue.

In 1970, a group of about 20 Sioux from the Pine Ridge Reservation under the leadership of Leo Wilcox, a tribal council member, asked to conduct a prayer vigil at the amphitheater at Mount Rushmore. The request was granted. The group explained to tourists and the news media that they had come to protest the failure of the United States to return land taken from the Pine Ridge Reservation for a gunnery range during World War II. They pointed out that Mount Rushmore, a part of the Black Hills, had been illegally taken from them a century earlier.

In a separate demonstration, members of the American Indian Movement demonstrated at Mount Rushmore.  Several of them camped on the top of the monument just behind the head of Theodore Roosevelt. A highly respected Sioux spiritual leader, Frank Fools Crow, came to Mount Rushmore and performed a ceremony to purify the land. In doing this ceremony, he re-established the Sioux religious relationship with Mount Rushmore.

In 1971, the American Indian Movement symbolically renamed the monument Mount Crazy Horse. Sioux spiritual leader John Fire Lame Deer planted a prayer staff on top of the mountain. From the viewpoint of AIM and many Native Americans, Mount Rushmore should be considered as the Shrine of Hypocrisy rather than as the Shrine of Democracy. Mount Rushmore symbolizes to them the treaties broken by the United States.

By the end of the twentieth century, there was no doubt that Mount Rushmore was a successful tourist attraction. The non-Indian businesses in the area were earning about $100 million annually. This prosperity was made possible by an initial investment of about $1 million in federal tax money. Just 60 miles east of the monument, however, the Pine Ridge Reservation, home to many of the Sioux who had been the aboriginal owners, was one of the poorest areas in the United States with an unemployment rate of about 80%.

In 2004, Gerard Baker (Mandan/Hidatsa) became the first Native American superintendent of the park. He had previously been superintendent at the Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana. When he was offered the position at Mount Rushmore, he called the elders and asked their advice. He was expecting them to tell him not to take the job, but instead was told that this would be a good place to start the healing.

Baker 1

Baker 3

Gerard Baker is pictured above.

Under his leadership, Mount Rushmore opened more avenues of interpretation and moved beyond the single focus on the four Presidents. Baker opened up a dialogue with Native American groups, asking them for feedback and input about the monument. As a result, Heritage Village, a small cluster of Sioux tipis, was established at the monument. During the work week, Native Americans provided demonstrations of Sioux culture and handicrafts. They also provided insights into the aboriginal Sioux culture.

In 2008, Baker invited several tribal elders to a tribal council held on the park grounds of Mount Rushmore. In the council the park rangers and staff listened to the concerns and issues of the elders. Three main ideas came out of this dialogue: (1) to place Sioux language translations on several signs as a way of indicating the Indian presence, (2) to distribute pamphlets with an accurate description of Sioux culture and spirituality; and (3) to have Native American college students collect oral histories from elders about the park.

Baker, who suffered a stroke in 2009, retired early from the National Park Service in 2010.

National Parks & American Indians: Grand Canyon

( – promoted by navajo)

American Indians have lived in and have utilized the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River for thousands of years. The Havasupai, whose farms are in the bottom of the canyon, were visited by the Spanish under the leadership of the missionary Francisco Garces in 1776. The Spanish followed a narrow trail into Cataract Canyon, a tributary to the Grand Canyon. The trail was narrow, steep, and perilous with a thousand foot drop-off. Some of Garces’ men finished the journey on their hands and knees as they were afraid to stand up. At the bottom of the canyon they encountered the Havasupai who were cultivating about 400 acres of land.



The United States acquired the Grand Canyon following a brief war with Mexico in 1848. In 1893, much of the winter range used by the Havasupai was set aside as the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve by executive order of President Benjamin Harrison. There was little or no consideration or recognition of Havasupai rights within this area.

Havasupai girl

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon. He rode down into the canyon and found Havasupai families headed by Yavñmi’ Gswedva (Dangling Beard) and Burro living at Indian Garden. According Havasupai oral tradition, President Roosevelt spoke to Gswedva (called Big Jim by the Americans) and informed him, through an interpreter, of the federal government’s intent to locate a park for the American people on Gswedva’s and Burro’s garden lands below the rim. To make such a park possible, he urged them to vacate the area.

In 1914, concerned about the talk regarding the establishment of Grand Canyon National Park, the Indian agent for the Havasupai made a request (one of several) to obtain plateau land for them. He wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs:

“Out of this abundance it seems that these peacable [sic] and quiet people who have never opposed the approach of the white man nor disputed his progress might have enough on which to make an honest and plentiful living”

With regard to the requested plateau land, he wrote:

“This land is within the Forest Reserve, but in so far as the timber is concerned is of no value whatever.”

Legislation was introduced in Congress in 1917 to create the Grand Canyon National Park. The legislation made no mention of the Havasupai who inhabited the area and it is quite probable that the Secretary of the Interior was unaware that this Indian tribe was living in Cataract Canyon.

Grand Canyon National Park:

Congress created the Grand Canyon National Park in 1919. With regard to the Havasupai, the aboriginal dwellers of the area, the legislation states:

“That nothing herein contained shall affect the rights of the Havasupai Tribe of Indians to the use and occupancy of the bottom lands of the Canyon of Cataract Creek.”

Tribal members, at the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior, may be allowed to use and occupy other tracts of land within the park for agricultural purposes.

The newly created National Park is bordered by three Indian reservations: Navajo, Havasupai, and Hualapai. In addition, five more tribes consider parts of the Grand Canyon to be sacred areas: Hopi, Zuni, Kaibab Paiute, Shivwits Paiute, and San Juan Paiute.

In 1926, the National Park Service began construction of a sewer line to the Grand Canyon Village. The new sewer line was intended to service the growing non-Indian community at the South Rim. In constructing the sewer line, several Havasupai camps were relocated. The park superintendent set off a 160-acre plot for the Havasupai and told them that they could stay on it.

In 1926, the National Park Service proposed adjusting the Grand Canyon National Park boundary to include the Havasupai access road. While the Park Service usually goes to great lengths to avoid the private property of non-Indians, there was no concern for the Havasupai.

In 1928, much to the annoyance of the National Park Service, the Havasupai family of Burro was still farming Indian Garden within the Grand Canyon National Park. Two park rangers went down and chased him out. It was reported that Burro stood on the rim, looked down at the place and wept for it.

In 1934, the National Park Service decided that the traditional Havasupai homes west of Grand Canyon Village were an eyesore. Consequently the Park Service built ten cabins for the Havasupai. The Park Service then tore down and burned the traditional homes. The new cabins were rented to the Havasupai for $5 per month, which included neither maintenance nor repair. By moving the Havasupai families into rented cabins, the Park Service changed Havasupai into tenants and thus erased their aboriginal status.

The National Park Service in 1936 issued an order which stated that only Indians who worked in the park may be allowed to live in Yosemite (California), Grand Canyon (Arizona), and Death Valley (California).

In 1939, a non-Indian leased land from the state and built a fence around a spring in Cataract Canyon. This blocked the Havasupai cattle from the watering hole and 28 head of cattle died. The Havasupai complained to the National Park Service. The National Park Service contacted the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and suggested that the Havasupai be placed on the Hualapai reservation and that the 518 acres of the Havasupai reservation be transferred to the Grand Canyon National Park.

In 1940, the National Park Service, concerned about the Havasupai and Grand Canyon National Park, asked the Commissioner of Indian Affairs:

“What likelihood is there of moving the Supai Indians to the Hualapai Reservation and adding the Havasupai Reservation to the national park?”

This action showed shocking disregard to the Havasupais’ seven-hundred-year connection to their homeland.

In 1940, the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park was reprimanded by a superior:

“Please make a point of referring to Indians, living or archaeological, as men, women, and children-not as bucks or braves, squaws or papooses.”

In 1955, the National Park Service informed the Havasupai families in the Grand Canyon National Park that they could remain only if they were employed. At this time, Grand Canyon National Park and the various concessioners began terminating Havasupai jobs within the park. Park officials began dismantling homes at the Havasupai residence camp. The Bureau of Indian Affairs had a truck available to haul the dispossessed and their belongings away.

In 1968, the Indian Claims Commission offered the Havasupai more than $1.2 million for the government’s deprivation of more than 2 million acres of their former range. The settlement came out to 55 cents per acre. The lands involved included a portion of the Grand Canyon National Park.

The Havasupai held a public meeting on the offer. Tribal chairman Daniel Kaska urged those present not to accept the offer:

“We want the land; we don’t want the money. What happens to our land if we take this money?”

The tribal attorney, however, informed them that this course of action was not available to them: if they refused the money, then they would get nothing. When put to a vote, 52 voted to accept the offer and only 10 voted against it.

The following year, having learned of the Indian Court of Claims judgment regarding the Havasupai land claim, the National Park Service began consulting with the Sierra Club and other groups to incorporate the tribe’s permit areas into the Grand Canyon National Park. This would place more restrictions on tribal use. The tribe was not consulted.

In 1971, the National Park Service and the Sierra Club completed the third draft of their plan for incorporating Havasupai permit areas into the Grand Canyon National Park. However, the tribe’s attorney obtained a copy of the planning document and notified the tribe. In the master plan map, there was no Havasupai Reservation: the area was shown as a part of the park.

In response to their discovery of this planning process, the Havasupai met with the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park. At the public hearing regarding the plan, tribal chairman Lee Marshall stated:

“I heard you people talking about the Grand Canyon. Well, you’re looking at it. I am the Grand Canyon.”

He then went on to ask for the return of the Park Service campground and the Havasupai residence area at Grand Canyon Village. He asked that the park provide the Havasupai preferential employment. Following the public meeting, the Havasupai Tribal Council held an all-day meeting with the elders. The tribal elders indicated that they wanted the return of park and forest permit areas. Neither the Park Service nor the Forest Service, however, would consider the tribe’s plan.

In 1972, the Havasupai appealed to both the Secretary of the Interior (who is in charge of national parks, including the Grand Canyon National Park) and the Secretary of Agriculture (who is in charge of national forests). Concerning their traditional use areas which are administered by the Forest Service and the National Park Service, they wrote:

“We care more deeply for the beauty of our land than Sunday hikers or professional environmentalists because this land is part of us, and we live on it… We are human beings with the right to survive, not rocks or dust. This is not a zoo.”

While both agencies promised to respond to the letter, neither did. The Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth mounted a nationwide campaign of opposition to the Havasupai land return. Their campaign left the impression that the Havasupai planned to put Disneyland on the plateau of the Grand Canyon.

Finally, in 1975, President Gerald Ford signed legislation which enlarged the Havasupai reservation and guaranteed them the use of 95,000 acres within Grand Canyon National Park. The government also acknowledged the rights of the Havasupai to access sacred sites which are outside of their reservation.  With this act, they had overcome numerous political obstacles and what seemed impossible odds.  


National Parks & American Indians: Mesa Verde

( – promoted by navajo)

Nearly a thousand years ago, Ancestral Puebloans (sometimes called Anasazi) began to construct pueblos in caves and under the rock hangings of the canyon cliffs in southern Colorado. Three hundred years later, these pueblos were abandoned because of a prolonged drought. Then in 1888, rancher Richard Wetherill and his brother-in-law Charlie Mason came across the ruins of an enormous village in the cliffs of Cliff Canyon. They named the village Cliff Palace. In exploring the area, they discovered two more large ruins which they named Spruce Tree House and Square Tower House.

Cliff Palace

Spruce Tree House

Wetherill and Mason returned to the ruins and dug up a large number of artifacts which they later displayed at the Fair Building in Durango, Colorado.

While Wetherhill and Mason are commonly credited with “discovering” the Mesa Verde ruins, it is important to note that the Utes already knew about the Mesa Verde ruins. Most of ruins lay on Ute lands. The Utes avoided the ruins, which were considered to harbor spirits of the dead that would harm living people.

Cliff Palace 2

In addition, several non-Indians had also explored the area prior to Wetherhill and Mason. In 1765 Don Juan María de Rivera led an expedition into the area and reported seeing ancient ruins. These may have been the ruins of Mesa Verde, but the report provided no identifiable features.

In 1874, pioneer photographer William Henry Jackson was guided into Two Story House by a local miner. He took the first photographs of a cliff dwelling in the Mesa Verde region. In 1884, another prospector, S. E. Osborn, spent the winter in the area and explored Balcony House.

In 1890, Benjamin Wetherhill wrote to the Smithsonian Institution suggesting that the ruins be made into a national park so that the tourists would not destroy them.

In 1899, a group of women determined to halt the vandalism at the Mesa Verde ruins and to attract tourists to the area held a meeting on the Southern Ute reservation with Ute leaders Ignacio and Acowitz. They suggested that the Ute police the park and proposed a lease of $300 per year. Chief Ignacio demanded $9,000 at one time and the negotiations failed.

President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill which created Mesa Verde National Park in 1906. This was the first national park created to preserve ancient ruins. Today the park includes 4,000 known archaeological sites which include 600 cliff dwellings.

The initial Act passed by Congress included 42,000 acres of Ute land. However, because of a faulty survey almost none of the ruins were actually located in the new national park. To correct this, the bill was amended to place all unpatented prehistoric ruins on Indian or federal land within five miles of the park boundary under the custodianship of the park.

In 1911, the Indian Service sent its top negotiator, James McLaughlin, to talk with the Ute about the expansion of Mesa Verde National Park. Meeting with 48 members of the Wiminuche Band, McLaughlin explained that a number of cliff dwellings were left out of the park. The park needed just a five mile parcel and the government would give the Ute a larger piece in exchange for it.

One of the interpreters, Nathan King, pointed out to government negotiators that the Ute already owned the land that the government was trying to give them. In addition, the lands which they would be giving up contained valuable springs. The negotiators then told the Ute that the government was strong enough to take the land away from them for the park. Having no choice, the Ute agreed to the transfer. As a result, the Ute gave up an additional 10,800 acres of their land for Mesa Verde National Park and they received 20,160 acres of their own land in exchange.

In 1913, a survey found that the boundary for Mesa Verde National Park excluded Balcony House. Without bothering to notify the Ute, Congress amended legislation to transfer an additional 1,320 acres from the reservation to the park.

Balcony House

In 1978, Mesa Verde National Park was designated as a World Heritage Site.

In 1986, the Ute took advantage of a surveying error which put part of a well-traveled road in Mesa Verde National Park on tribal lands. They established a facility that offers souvenir and refreshment sales as well as helicopter tours. The National Park Service was not happy with this unregulated facility.

In 2006, 100 years after the National Park was created, 1,500 human remains and nearly 5,000 associated funerary items-pottery, beads, basketry, and other artifacts-that had been excavated from Mesa Verde National Park during the past 100 years were repatriated and reburied at an undisclosed location within the park. The 24 tribes culturally affiliated with the park appointed the Hopi to perform the reburial ceremonies. The repatriation was carried out under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). According to the Mesa Verde National Park website:…

The reburial ceremony was a result of 12 years of consultation with the park’s 24 associated tribes, and was performed by both park staff and the Hopi tribe. Due to the sensitive nature of the event, and out of respect for the tribes, the reburial was closed to the general public and took place in an undisclosed park location.

Balcony House 2

National Parks & American Indians: Yellowstone

( – promoted by oke)

In 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant signed the legislation making Yellowstone National Park in northwestern Wyoming the world’s first national park. The official website for the park notes:

The human history of the Yellowstone region goes back more than 11,000 years. From about 11,000 years ago to the very recent past, many groups of Native Americans used the park as their homes, hunting grounds, and transportation routes.…

Yellowstone 1


For thousands of years Obsidian Cliff in the Park had been a quarry from which Indian people obtained obsidian for making stone tools. These stone tools were traded to tribes as far away as the site of the ancient city of Chahokia in Illinois.

Indians, in spite of their long association with the Park, were not consulted with regard to the creation of the Park.

Traditional Indian Use of the Park:

After obtaining the horse in the early eighteenth century, the Indian nations of southern Idaho and western Montana began using the Bannock Trail through what is now the park as a route to the buffalo on the Montana Plains. After the buffalo went extinct in southern Idaho in the 1830s, the use of the Bannock Trail increased. While used most frequently by the Shoshone and Bannock, it was also used by the Nez Perce and the Flathead (Bitterroot Salish).


Indian people camped and hunted in the park, and used the hot springs for both cooking and for preparing hides. In addition to the tribes from the Plateau area (Shoshone, Bannock, Nez Perce, and Flathead), the area was also used by the Crow and the Cheyenne. It was not uncommon for Blackfoot war parties to come into the area to raid Crow and Shoshone hunting parties, and later the American trappers.

While Yellowstone was an area traditionally used by Indians, it was first encountered by a non-Indian a little more than 200 years. John Colter had set out to make trade alliances with the Crow. The Crow took him into what would become Yellowstone National Park and showed him the geysers and other marvels which were there. Upon returning home, many did not believe his tales and dubbed the area Colter’s Hell.

In 1865, a Blackfoot hunting party under the leadership of Big Lake described the wonders of present-day Yellowstone National Park to the Jesuit priest Father Xavier Kuppens. They then took the priest into the area, showing him the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Firehole Basin.

The Nez Perce  and Bannock Wars:

While the creation of Yellowstone as a National Park in 1872 ignored the Indian presence in the Park, Indians continued to use the area. This came to the attention of the press and the general public in 1877 when the Nez Perce, attempting to avoid a fight with the American army, entered the Park through Targhee Pass. Nez Perce warrior Yellow Wolf reported:

“We did not follow the usual Nez Perce trail. We traveled over a hunting trail instead.”

Yellowstone was a National Park at this time, and consequently there were tourists in the Park. The Nez Perce encountered a group of 9 tourists from Montana. Afraid that the tourists might tell the army where they were, the Nez Perce took the tourists captive. Upon the advice of Poker Joe, the Nez Perce leader during this part of their journey, the tourists escaped.

Unfortunately for the infant park system, the capture of tourists in Yellowstone National Park by “wild, renegade” Indians was a public relations nightmare. To counteract this bad press, the government began a campaign in which Indians were portrayed as “superstitious” and afraid of all of the evil spirits in the Park. Indians, according to Park literature, rarely entered or used the Park. It took more than a century for the Park to correct this misinformation.

During the 1878 Bannock Indian War, a small group of Bannock warriors decided to run to Canada to join Sitting Bull’s Sioux. They followed the Bannock trail through Yellowstone National Park where they encountered a survey team. The Bannock managed to capture the survey crew’s animals and supplies. The army, under the command of Col. Nelson Miles who was actually in Yellowstone National Park at the time as a tourist, surprised a Bannock camp near Heart Mountain, killing 11 and capturing 31.

Southwest of Yellowstone Lake, the army met some of the escapees from the Heart Mountain battle. After a brief fight, the Indians surrendered. While the army reported only one Indian killed, the captives reported that 28 were killed. One observer of the battle wrote:

“The Bannock decided to surrender to the troops, and they moved in a peaceful manner to do so. Nevertheless, volleys of gun-fire were poured into them and several of them were killed.”

The observer concluded:

“It seemed to me that killing these Indians when it was plainly evident they were trying to surrender was a violation of the humanities. They did not respond to the fire.”

Complaints about Indians:

In 1887, Yellowstone National Park officials complained that the Shoshone band under the leadership of Major Jim had been burning grass near the park and that the tourists were nervous about having “wild Indians” in the area. The Shoshone felt that they were unable live on the rations issued at the reservation and thus needed to hunt in order to live. Burning the grass was a standard Indian way of managing the land and increasing the yield of deer, elk, and other mammals. Regular burning allows for a larger carrying capacity. Many non-Indians, however, felt that burning was bad for the land.

In 1888, the military superintendent of Yellowstone National Park complained to the Indian agents of the Lemhi and Fort Hall agencies in Idaho about Indian hunting in and near the park. He complained that not only were the Indians poaching, but they were causing some alarm among the tourists.

During the first half of the twentieth century, American Indians were no longer visibly present in Yellowstone National Park, either in its official history or in contemporary presence. From time to time, however, the Park Service did use Indians in a ceremonial fashion to help entertain the tourists.   In 1925, a group of Shoshone from the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho under the leadership of Chief Tyhee took part in ceremonies opening the new West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. In addition, Park officials invited a group of Crow from Montana to assist in a roundup of the Yellowstone buffalo herd. The Indians wore traditional dress and attracted tourists who watched the riders chase the buffalo through the Lamar Valley.

The Park’s dislike for the Indian history of Yellowstone National Park emerged in 1927. The pageant Masque of the Absaroka, was presented in Bozeman, Montana. The pageant was a dramatization of Crow origin mythology and used Crow actors. While the pageant’s organizers wanted to present the pageant in Yellowstone National Park, Park officials did not feel that it had any connection with the Park and were concerned about the fact that the presentation used “real” Indians.

The official Park Service story was that the geysers and other features within Yellowstone National Park frightened the “superstitious” Indians. The passage of the Nez Perce through the Park in 1877 was, according to the officials, an anomaly. In 1935, however, two veterans of the 1877 Nez Perce War, Many Wounds and White Hawk, revisited Yellowstone National Park. When asked about their reaction to the geysers, they stated:

“We knew that country well before passing through there in 1877. The hot smoking springs and the high-shooting water were nothing new to us.”

Recognition of Indians:

In 1961, Yellowstone National Park issued the following statement:

“The National Park Service now believes that the Yellowstone Park Area may not have been taboo to the nomadic Indian tribes which frequented the Northwest in prehistoric times. Evidence collected over the past several years seems to indicate that many tribes have been more or less permanent residents of this geologically mysterious area.”

In 1996, the Obsidian Cliff in Yellowstone National Park was designated a National Historic Landmark and was recognized as one of the first industrial areas in North America. The Obsidian Cliff was the source of material for making stone tools for thousands of years and tools from this area spread across thousands of miles.

In 2001, Yellowstone National Park changed its entrance fee policy to allow members of “affiliated” tribes to enter the park for traditional purposes without paying the recreation fee.

About the Buffalo:

Buffalo Herd

In 1889, there were an estimated 200 buffalo left in Yellowstone National Park. In 1902, Yellowstone National Park purchased 21 buffalo from the Pablo-Allard herd from the Flathead Reservation in Montana and from the Goodnight herd in Texas. The new herd was kept quarantined and monitored to prevent cross-breeding with the wild mountain buffalo which were still in the Park.

Pressure from Montana’s livestock industry in 1945 resulted in a ban on shipping live buffalo from Yellowstone National Park. Ranchers feared that the buffalo may have brucellosis and may pass it on to cattle.

In 1997, a hard winter caused buffalo in Yellowstone National Park to migrate outside of the Park’s boundaries. In spite of protests by Native Americans and others, the government killed 1,100 buffalo. While the official reason for killing the buffalo was the fear that brucella abortus would be passed from the buffalo to domestic cattle, one leading authority on brucellosis reports:

“a bison would practically have to abort in a cow’s face to pass it on.”

Indians tend to see the battle over the buffalo as a traditional “cowboys versus Indians” thing in which the buffalo represent the Indians.

Yellowstone 2

National Parks & American Indians: Death Valley

( – promoted by navajo)

Death Valley 5Death Valley, located in California, is the hottest, driest, and lowest place in the United States. It is an area of sand dunes and wilderness. Non-Indian tourism into this desolate region actually began in 1926 and in 1933 President Herbert Hoover created the Death Valley National Monument by Presidential Executive Order. While some saw this act as the first step in transforming one of the earth’s least hospitable spots into a popular tourist destination, for the Timbisha Shoshone, the aboriginal inhabitants of the area, this action made them landless. While the Timbisha Shoshone were not forced from their traditional homeland, the control over their land (and thus over their lives) was assumed by the National Park Service. Death Valley officially became a National Park in 1994.

Death Valley 6

Death Valley is called tumpisa by the Timbisha Shoshone. The name means “rock paint” and refers to the red ochre paint that can be made from a type of clay found in the valley. The name Timbisha means “Red Rock Face Paint.”

Timbisha 1

The creation of the new national monument in 1933 was the result of lobbying by the Automobile Club of Southern California. Monument planners emphasized Death Valley’s unique animal and plant life, but seemed to be unaware of the small groups of Indians living throughout the new federal park.

Timbisha 2

In 1936, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Park Service set aside 40 acres as a village site for the Timbisha Shoshone in Death Valley. The Civilian Conservation Corps built timber and adobe houses for the Timbisha. The model community was intended to provide modern homes for Indians near wage work at Furnace Creek. In addition, the community would have a trading post where the Shoshone women could market their intricate baskets and a laundry service where they could work.

For more than forty years, the Timbisha Shoshone seemed almost invisible to the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the federal government. Then, in 1978, Timbisha Shoshone leader Pauline Esteves negotiated an agreement with the Indian Health Service and the National Park Service to provide a new domestic water supply and waste disposal facilities for their village in Death Valley National Monument. The Timbisha Shoshone also purchased four trailers to augment their housing and finally receive electrical service.

In 1982, the Timbisha Shoshone obtained federal recognition from the United States government. They were one of the first tribes to obtain federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs federal acknowledgement process.

In 1994, the California Desert Protection Act added millions of acres to the Death Valley National Monument and made the entire area into a National Park. The act included a provision to conduct a study of the aboriginal homelands of the Timbisha Shoshone for the purpose of identifying lands which would be suitable for a reservation. The study was to be done in consultation with the tribe. Of the half a dozen tribes who had lands within a national park at this time, only the Timbisha Shoshone did not have a reservation.

Three years later, the leaders of the Timbisha Shoshone were notified by the National Park service that they would have to give up their 40 acre camp in the Death Valley National Park. While Death Valley has been a part of the Timbisha homelands for hundreds of years, the Park service had long maintained that no Indians had lived in the area.

In 1999, the National Park Service and the Timbisha Shoshone reached an agreement which gave thousands of acres to the tribe. Under the agreement, the tribe received 300 acres near the Park’s main tourist center which the tribe could use for homes, a gift shop, a medical clinic, and a motel. In addition, the tribe received 3,000 acres outside of the Park from the Bureau of Land Management.

In 2001, the Timbisha Shoshone held a celebration at their old Indian Village at Furnace Creek. Timbisha elders and the National Park Service personnel met together at a barbeque to symbolize a new era of cooperation.

Today the official website for the park says:

The Timbisha Shoshone Indians lived here for centuries before the first white man entered the valley. They hunted and followed seasonal migrations for harvesting of pinyon pine nuts and mesquite beans with their families. To them, the land provided everything they needed and many areas were, and are, considered to be sacred places.

At the present time, the Timbisha Shoshone have a village at Furnace Creek.

Timbisha 3

National Parks & American Indians: Glacier National Park

( – promoted by navajo)

Glacier National Park was designated our nation’s 10th national park on May 11, 1910. Half of the new park was formed by the “mineral strip” which had been sold by the Blackfoot to the United States in 1895. The enabling legislation for the park, however, contained no reference to the Blackfoot, nor does it acknowledge their hunting, fishing, and timber rights to the area, rights which they had reserved in their treaty with the government. The tribe was not invited to the congressional hearing about the park.

Lake McDonald

Glacier’s first superintendent was William Richard Logan, the son of an Army captain who made a career out of fighting Indians. He was no friend to Indians, calling them “natural beggars and bummers” and subsequently served as the Indian agent to the Blackfeet and to the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre at the Fort Belknap Reservation. Since he also had little sympathy for conservation, he was made superintendent of Glacier National Park and introduced programs that were developmental rather than environmental.  

Glacier National Park, according to archaeological data and Native American oral tradition, has been used by American Indians for more than 10,000 years. When the first Euroamerican explorers began entering the region about two hundred years ago, the Blackfoot controlled the prairies to the east of the Park and used the mountains in the park for hunting, for ceremonies, and for gathering plants. The Salish-speaking tribes (Pend d’Oreille, Kalispel, Flathead) and the Kootenai lived in the valleys to the west.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the policy of the American government was that all Indians were to become farmers with small, family farms. All other forms of economic development were discouraged. Therefore, when there were rumors about the possibility of gold in the mountains on the western portion of the Blackfoot reservation, there was no consideration given to the possibility that the Indians could mine the gold themselves. All of the Americans agreed that the Indians would have to sell the land so that the gold could be exploited by non-Indian mining interests.

In 1895 representatives from the United States government met with 35 handpicked Blackfoot leaders. The United States wanted to purchase the western mountains, but the Blackfoot were reluctant to sell. Under much pressure, the handpicked leaders agreed to the sale and asked for $3 million, but the government paid them only $1.5 million.

The mountainous area involved in the sale was an area in which the Blackfoot traditionally hunted, fished, gathered plants, cut timber, and conducted religious ceremonies. Indian religions were illegal at this time so the Blackfoot were quiet about the spiritual use of the mountains. However, since the government seemed concerned about minerals, the Blackfoot insisted that they must maintain all non-mineral rights to the area. White Calf told the Americans:

“I would like to have the right to hunt game and fish in the mountains. We will sell you the mountain lands from Birch Creek to the boundary, reserving the timber and grazing land.”

One of the American negotiators was George Bird Grinnell who felt that there would be few minerals found in the area. Grinnell, however, felt that it was important to destroy Indian cultures by breaking up the communal ownership of land. Grinnell also felt that the area had great scenic potential and could be a tourist destination.

Indians and Hunting:

Two years after the creation of Glacier National Park, two Blackfoot hunters were arrested for hunting in their usual areas within the park. Their firearms, traps, and hides were taken from them. The Department of the Interior later instructed the park to return these items, but the Indians were not to be allowed in the park.

At this time, non-Indians were allowed to hunt in the park and government hunters were actively seeking to exterminate coyotes, wolves, and mountain lions within the park. While the Blackfoot felt that the treaty had reserved their right to hunt in the park, the government simply ignored their concerns.

In 1924, Peter Oscar Little Chief began to circulate a petition among the Blackfoot calling for a recognition of their hunting rights in Glacier National Park. He claimed that the Blackfoot retained these rights in their 1895 treaty:

“We sold to the U.S. Government nothing but rocks only. We still control timber, grass, water, and all big or small game or all the animals living in this [sic] mountains”

He submitted his petition to the Bureau of Indian affairs, but received no response.

In 1929, Peter Oscar Little Chief complained to Senator James Walsh that the Bureau of Indian Affairs had not responded to his 1924 petition regarding Blackfoot hunting rights in Glacier National Park. Walsh contacted the Commissioner of Indian Affairs who knew nothing about the petition but informed Walsh that Indians had no hunting rights in the park.

In 1929, assuming that the Blackfoot were subject to state law, the National Park Service attempted to end hunting near the eastern border of the park. Wardens arrested Blackfoot and Cree hunters for killing elk east of the park boundary. The judge, however, released the men and returned the elk to them. State officials were angered by the judge’s decision and demanded further prosecution. The National Park Service then advised the Indian agent in Browning, the capital of the Blackfoot Nation, that the elk in Glacier National Park were not native, but had been imported from Yellowstone National Park and therefore the Indians did not have the right to hunt them. The Indians simply laughed at this tale.

In 1955, the deer and elk herds in Glacier National Park increased beyond the park’s capacity. Rangers killed many animals and drove others onto the adjacent Blackfoot reservation. Blackfoot hunters, however, were not allowed to hunt the animals within the park.

In 1991, Blackfoot tribal chairman Earl Old Person, commenting on Indian rights to hunt, fish, gather, and cut timber in Glacier National Park, said: “We only sold them the rocks.”

In 2000, two Blackfoot tribal members killed two bighorn sheep in Glacier National Park. When the two were charged with violating a federal wildlife protection statute, they argued that the Blackfoot have treaty hunting rights to the area. They pointed out that in the1896 agreement with the United States, the tribe retained its right to hunt, fish, and harvest timber in the area. The federal judge did not agree and one of the two men was found guilty of violating the Lacey Act which prohibits the sale of wildlife parts when the animals are killed illegally.

Indians and Tourists:

Glacier National Park was created in part because of the commercial interests of the Great Northern Railway. The park provided a tourist destination and the Great Northern provided the transportation and also owned the concessions within the park. Great Northern promoted the park as an “Indian” destination and referred to the Blackfoot as “Glacier Park Indians.” Tourists were met by Indians as they got off the train and there were tipis around the park lodges.

As a part of its Glacier National Park promotion, the Great Northern Railway in 1915 produced a movie entitled A Day in the Life of a Glacier Park Indian. In addition, the Great Northern Railway took six Blackfoot to the San Francisco Exhibition where they presented lectures, movies, and transparencies about Glacier National Park.

In 1928, the Great Northern Railway published American Indian Portraits which featured paintings of Blackfoot Indians.

Indian Rights:

The Blackfoot and the Kootenai had explored and used what is now Glacier National Park for thousands of years and during this time they had given names to all of the major geographic features of the area. The United States government, however, ignored the aboriginal names and proceeded to rename these features. Thus the mountain known as Napi (Old Man or Trickster) to the Blackfoot was named Mount Cleveland in 1898 as a way of honoring President Grover Cleveland.  The glacier known as Azina Kokutoi (Gros Ventre Ice) to the Blackfoot was named Dixon Glacier in honor of Senator Joseph M. Dixon, who had helped push through the legislation which established Glacier National Park. Dixon also pushed through a bill which broke up the Flathead Reservation and added greatly to his personal wealth. The list of geographic features named for presidents, wealthy men, politicians, and their friends is fairly long.

In 1915, Blackfoot leaders Curly Bear, Wolf Plume, and Tail Feathers Coming Over The Hill visited Washington, D.C. to complain about the renaming of mountains, lakes, rivers, and glaciers in Glacier National Park. The Indians wanted Blackfoot names used and they were promised that in the future only Indian names or their translations would be used.

In 1925, as a part of a publicity program for the Park,  author J.W. Schultz, known for his autobiographical novel My Life as an Indian, began a program of assigning Blackfoot names to the Park’s features. Working with Eli Guardipee, Curly Bear, and other Blackfoot elders, the plan was to begin at the southeastern corner of the Park and work northward along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. The idea was to assign names of Indians painted by George Catlin and Charles Bodmer rather than reasserting the aboriginal names.

In 1929, the National Park Service proposed to enlarge Glacier National Park by adding more Blackfoot land to the park. Ignoring the Blackfoot, the National Park Service asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs for help in the matter and enlisted the aid of an “Indian expert”. The park was told that the Blackfoot would not give up an additional area to the park for any money consideration.

In 1973, Blackfoot tribal member Woodrow L. Kipp refused to pay the entrance fee to Glacier National Park and was cited. In federal court Kipp was acquitted because of the 1895 agreement which allows the tribe free access to public lands taken from the tribe.

In 1975, the Blackfoot with the aid of the Native American Rights Fund petitioned the Secretary of the Interior claiming that the tribe has retained rights in the ceded “mineral strip” area which became Glacier National Park. Environmentalists condemned the Blackfoot:

“Indians may destroy something of value to both themselves and the rest of the nation.”

The Department of the Interior rejected the petition.

In 1973, Blackfoot tribal member Darrell R. Momberg was arrested for tree cutting inside Glacier National Park. While the 1895 agreement does allow timber harvest, Momberg was convicted because he had not cut the wood for personal use as specified in the agreement.