If you ask a local resident to identify some of the animals or geysers in Yellowstone National Park, you’ll likely get an extensive list. The same is true with names of various valleys, rivers …
If you ask a local resident to identify some of the animals or geysers in Yellowstone National Park, you’ll likely get an extensive list. The same is true with names of various valleys, rivers or mountains in the park.
But what if you ask them to name the Native American tribes who first marveled at the wonders of Yellowstone? You may hear some crickets instead of an answer.
More tribes are connected to Yellowstone than many of us may realize. In fact, 26 current tribes have historic connections to the park’s resources and lands. A few of those tribes include Eastern Shoshone, Northern Arapaho, Kiowa, Shoshone–Bannock, Crow Creek Sioux and Blackfeet, according to the National Park Service.
We’d venture to say that while many locals and visitors to Yellowstone learn a lot about the park’s geysers and animals, few are aware of its human history, which dates back thousands of years.
Long before early explorers documented Yellowstone’s unique features, Native Americans hunted, fished and gathered plants there; they also used its thermal waters for medicinal and religious purposes.
The Tukudeka, or Sheepeaters, followed the migrations of bighorn sheep and the animals made up a significant part of their diet. They soaked sheep horns in hot springs, making them pliable for bows that they then traded to other tribes, the Park Service says.
This is just one story among many. It’s important to preserve the history of tribes in the Yellowstone region, and we believe more could be done to teach this history to park visitors as well as locals. There are a few sites in Yellowstone named in honor of Native Americans, such as Nez Perce Creek, Shoshone Lake and Sheepeater Cliff.
In recent years, tribes have sought to rename Mount Doane and Hayden Valley, calling their namesakes “proponents and exponents of genocide.”
Both Gustavus C. Doane and Ferdinand Hayden played important roles in documenting the beauty and uniqueness of Yellowstone, which ultimately led to the area being set aside in perpetuity as a national park.
In the case of Doane, however, we agree that he is not worthy of the honor of having a mountain named for him. That honor is closer to being taken away, as the Wyoming Board of Geographic Names voted 6-2 to remove Doane’s name from the mountain. At issue is his role in an infamous 1870 massacre of Piegan people — many children, women and elderly men — and the fact that he remained proud of his part in the slaughter until his death, decades later.
The final say on Mount Doane rests with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which must weigh the historic and cultural considerations. Anytime there’s a push to rename a landmark (or a football team), it’s controversial — and for good reason. People and history are complicated and it’s tricky to make judgments hundreds of years later. We must also preserve the dark moments in history that we’d rather forget.
If Mount Doane becomes First People’s Mountain, it will certainly spark more conversations about the tribes who are connected to Yellowstone. But regardless of that decision, we encourage the National Park Service and others to do more to teach park visitors and locals about Yellowstone’s early inhabitants, who were there long before Hayden, Doane or many others whose names now dot the park’s landscape.