Tribal leaders enter Yellowstone Park
Published September 19, 2017

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – “I stand in strong solidarity with you and my indigenous brothers and sisters in your demands to change the names in Yellowstone from war criminals to humane and freedom-loving people!” Dr. Cornel West informed Chief Stan Grier, a message sent for tribal leaders on the eve of their unity protest in Yellowstone. That Harvard professor Dr. West, once described by President Obama as “a genius, a public intellectual, a preacher, an oracle” and “the most exciting black American scholar ever” by critics, has publicly supported Tribal Nations’ efforts to change the names of proponents and exponents of indigenous genocide in Yellowstone, suggests the traction and profile the issue is gaining.

Despite a winter storm warning, three of Yellowstone’s five entrances being closed due to snow, and a last-minute change to an indoor from outdoor venue, before tribal leaders’ presentations could begin in Gardiner, Montana on Saturday, additional chairs had to be provided for attendees. Of the sixteen tribal leaders present, Grier, Chief of the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy, was first to speak. Grier used the Blackfoot Confederacy’s rights from the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty and 1855 Lame Bull Treaty to reemphasize the Piikani’s standing in Yellowstone.

“Our ancestors knew this area intimately. We used to collect our red and black paints here. We collected medicines here. Like our Cheyenne brothers, we were taught curing ways by the sacred grizzly in this area. We held vision quests here,” he explained. “So well did we know this area, that some of the names our people used for features of this land are still used today, like the Beartooth Mountains, and Heart Mountain near Cody.” Grier paused, then added, “And today, we are here because of very different names: Mount Doane and Hayden Valley.”

Chief Grier relayed how Doane led the slaughter of defenseless Piikani women and children in the Marias River Massacre, and repeated, “Doane’s own words from his letter of application to be Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park: ‘I was the first and last man in [the] Piikani camp January 23, 1870. Greatest slaughter of Indians ever made by U.S. Troops.’” Some of Doane’s Company F, 2nd Cavalry, later admitted that, as Grier, said, “Doane subsequently ordered several of the Piikani he took prisoner to be executed with axes.” Over 173 victims died in Doane’s attack on Chief Heavy Runner’s sleeping village.

“The authorities admitted that only 15 were men of fighting age, the rest were elders, women and children, ‘None older than twelve years and many of them in their mother’s arms,’ reported Indian Agent W.A. Pease,” read Grier.

“We propose that Mount Doane be renamed ‘First People’s Mountain,’ not only to honor the memories of the Piikani victims of the Marias Massacre, but also in remembrance of those who suffered the same barbarity at the hands of those like Doane. The Cheyenne and Arapaho at Sand Creek. The Shoshone-Bannock at Bear River. The Lakota at Wounded Knee. ‘First People’s Mountain’ also recognizes the 10,000-year plus connection Native peoples have to this sacred place,” stated Grier.

In a letter sent Monday to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Blackfeet Chairman Harry Barnes writes, “This was not war but an attack on innocents.” Barnes, like Zinke, is a military veteran, and in his letter the Blackfeet Chairman defines Doane as “a war criminal” and questions why, in the cases of Doane and Hayden, “we memorialize these two reprehensible persons of western history.”

“In speaking of Tribal peoples, Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden advocated, ‘Unless they are localized and made to enter upon agricultural and pastoral pursuits they must ultimately be exterminated.’ He believed, ‘Equally incontestable is the pre-eminence, both intellectual and moral of the white race . . .’ He shared similar feelings with regards to the black man,” Barnes recounts, underscoring tribal leaders’ presentations of fact that demonstrate Hayden was a white supremacist who fomented genocide.

Shoshone-Banncock Councilman Lee Juan Tyler informs park official that Yellowstone National Park is on tribal homelands.
“I ask you to use the considerable influence of your office to bring about reconciliation of past wrongs by helping us to change these deplorable names,” Chairman Barnes petitions Zinke.

In his opening address, Chief Grier responded to Yellowstone National Park’s historian, Lee Whittlesey, and Montana historians Zoe Ann Stultz and Kim Scott, who in media reports have suggested Hayden’s “statements” though “hateful” were innocuous, due to the context of that era, and simply reflected “how people viewed people of color.” Similar arguments have been used to defend KKK pioneer and Confederate icon, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

“Words are what incites genocide,” countered Grier in his remarks. “Even recent history teaches us that. The individuals who advocated genocide over the airwaves in Rwanda were found guilty by the UN International Tribunal of conspiracy to commit genocide; genocide; direct and public incitement to commit genocide; and complicity in genocide; which resulted in crimes against humanity. What more needs to explained? You have a major area of Yellowstone National Park named after an individual who advocated genocide. Period.”

Nine recorded massacres, concluding with Wounded Knee, were committed after Hayden promoted “extermination.” In California alone, 14,000 Indians were killed from when Hayden made those remarks to 1900.

Tribal leaders want Hayden Valley renamed Buffalo Nations’ Valley “in honor of all Tribal Nations that have treaty rights and an ancestral connection to Greater Yellowstone.”

“Think about those names,” said Blackfeet Councilman Tim Davis, “It is atrocious what they did to our people.” Davis is a descendant of Marias River Massacre survivors. “There is an opportunity here for you to be on the right side of history,” Councilman Davis continued, addressing National Park Service representatives. “Work with us. Let us come together and change these names, and let the healing begin,” he urged.

Chairman Brandon Sazue of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, representing the Great Sioux Nation and the 1851 and 1868 Treaty rights of the Lakota-Dakota people, which include areas now categorized as Greater Yellowstone, joined Councilman Davis in stressing the importance of grasping the lessons of this “horrible history.”

Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Councilman, Lee Juan Tyler, and Cultural Resources Director, Louise Dixey, reminded the Park Service of their people’s ancient relationship with the land now called Yellowstone. “Our people have traveled the Bannock Trail and Shoshone trails throughout Yellowstone for hundreds and thousands of years. Our stories are written in the walls here, written on the land,” said Dixey. Councilman Tyler, a direct descendant of Chief Tendoy, shared how his ancestor negotiated the unratified 1868 Virginia City Treaty, that included much of Yellowstone.

“This is our homeland,” Tyler said to Yellowstone Deputy Superintendent Pat Kenney as the leaders presented the Park Service with the official declaration to change the names. Kenney informed Tyler, Grier, Sazue and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Councilman, Leonard Gray, that Yellowstone National Park had not yet taken a position on having major features of the Park named in honor of a war criminal and white supremacist, but Kenney said the Park would give the declaration, “great consideration.”

“Safe travels back home,” the Park Service officials bade the tribal leaders, having just heard leader after leader explain how Yellowstone was their homeland, and had been for tens of thousands of years.

All photos © Brad Orsted




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