“Awé Púawishe: Land of Steam” is the Crow translation for Yellowstone National Park
August 25, 2016, marks the Centennial Celebration for National Parks in the United States. One hundred years of exploration, conservation, and preservation is the legacy of Yellowstone National Park.
Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to visit and camp in Yellowstone Park. Up until recently, I was not aware that Native Americans have free admission into the Park. Before the construction, roads, boardwalks, vacation lodges, and restaurants, Yellowstone was home to many tribes. However, I cannot help but have to remind people about Yellowstone’s prior history.
Scholarship of the past, according to authors Peter Nabokov and Lawrence Loendorf in Restoring a Presence: American Indians and Yellowstone National Park, say that Indians were almost always left out of the Park history. Native American history in the park was written as:
- The park was never more than thinly populated by Indians who had only marginal interest in its resources.
- The only full-time residents of the park were isolated bands of Sheep Eaters who were timid, impoverished, and culturally underdeveloped.
- The horse-riding Plains Indians who lived around the park shied away from its thermal areas because they were afraid of the geysers.
- Once the park was formally established and the Indian wars ceased in the late 1870s, Indians had no further interest in the park.
However, Yellowstone National Park has direct cultural and religious ties to Paleo-Indians of 10,000 years ago, and more recently—plains tribes such as the Blackfeet, Crow, Mountain Shoshone (Sheep Eaters), Shoshone-Bannock, Flathead, and other tribal bands. Tribes used the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for hunting (buffalo, elk, deer, big horn sheep, goat, and raptors); resources such as Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta) for teepees, aspen, cottonwood, obsidian, various berry and root varieties, medicinal plants and thermal clay, and spiritual connectivity with the natural features. Native Americans in Yellowstone considered features such the geysers and thermal pools sacred. Thermal pools were used for medicinal purposes to treat ailments such as rheumatism and arthritis. To this day, Yellowstone National Park reminds us of times past. Native Americans will always celebrate the cultural and aesthetic value of the park.