Spectacular Yellowstone National Park turns 150 and shines a light on Native Americans
“Yellowstone National Park is magical, spiritual and an inspirational place,” said historian Bruce Gourley, who has lived near the park for decades and is the author of the recent publication Yellowstone National Historical Park. .
As the United States’ first national park celebrates its 150th anniversary, it looks to the past but primarily focuses on its future as it brings greater recognition to the Indigenous peoples who walked the land for 10,000 years.
“It’s not just the last century and a half,” Yellowstone Superintendent Cameron Sholly said at a recent virtual event. “We also want to use this anniversary to better recognize the many Native American nations that lived in this area for thousands of years before Yellowstone became a park.”
In the coming months, Yellowstone will spotlight several tribal nations, whose members will give presentations, display artwork and engage with visitors at the park’s Tribal Heritage Center.
On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill that created Yellowstone for “the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations”.
However, the indigenous peoples who hunted and fished there were not included in the process.
“The native presence was not only minimized, but they were literally driven out of the park because their presence bothered many white people,” Gourley said.
Photos courtesy of Tom Murphy
Yellowstone is located primarily in Wyoming, but it also extends into Montana and Idaho. Today, some 4 million visitors come to experience the 9 million hectare landscape that sits atop an active supervolcano whose last major eruption occurred 640,000 years ago.
Appropriately known as Wonderland in its early days, the geothermal park is famous for its beautiful lakes and mountains, incredible array of wildlife, mighty waterfalls, rainbow-colored hot springs and its amazing geysers such as the famous Old Faithful, which erupts roughly every 1.5 hours.
For professional wildlife photographer Tom Murphy, there’s no better place. He particularly likes isolated wilderness.
“I can see the natural behavior of bison, coyotes, elk, wolves and grizzlies, how they live and relate to each other,” he told VOA. “The purpose of my photographs is to capture their interesting lives and give people an idea of the beauty and intelligence of wildlife.”
He thinks it was a mistake to eliminate wolves from Yellowstone over the past century and applauds their reintroduction in the mid-1990s, which created greater biodiversity.
The Yellowstone bison herd is important to Scott Frazier of the Crow Tribe. “Bison are sacred and represent freedom for Indian tribes, who have a symbiotic relationship with them,” he explained.
Frazier, who is 72, has visited the park since he was a child.
“It was so quiet, not like today,” he said of camping and fishing with his dad. “There weren’t many cars, and sometimes you would see a bear on the road, but that’s rare now.”
“Today is so different,” he said.
“People who come from the cities may not have seen a squirrel, let alone a moose. Unfortunately, many of them spend time taking photos or videos instead of enjoying the moment that is right in front of them,” he said in an interview. with OV.
But Frazier is more concerned with the past 150 years, when Yellowstone barely recognized the park’s tribes.
It’s “an extremely important step” that Yellowstone, along with other U.S. national parks, is reaching out to Native Americans, he said.
“I would like to see more recognition of the places the tribes hold sacred in Yellowstone,” said Frazier, who teaches environmental classes at the park from a native perspective.
Other Native Americans also say it’s time for Yellowstone to focus more on Native contributions.
“There are very few mentions of Native Americans, including the Shoshone,” said Robyn Rofkar, administrative assistant at the Eastern Shoshone Tribal Cultural Center on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.
“It would be nice to include Native American names at sites around the park. I also think Yellowstone should sell more traditional items made by Indian tribes, like Shoshone beadwork.”
“I hope we can educate tourists so they know that Yellowstone was part of the homeland of the Indians,” she said.