Erasing Native Americans from National Parks
May 7, 2018 12:54 PM   Subscribe

Related: Indigenous Geotags (also on Instagram), which drives home the same point by posting photos of National Parks with either the name of the place in the relevant indigenous languages or the name of the tribes the land used to belong to superimposed.

TFA is nicely detailed concerning how we got to the current state of affairs, though.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:24 PM on May 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's not just Native American sites, structures, and populations - removing pretty much all signs of human habitation in the service of an ahistorical ideal of untrammeled nature was NPS policy for decades. It was successfully resisted at great cost in a handful of places (e.g. in the case of the dune shacks outside Provincetown on the Cape Cod National Seashore), but anyone without some wealth and privilege generally got pushed off. The mass-evictions from what became Shenandoah National Park also come to mind.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:20 PM on May 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

Thank you for this article--Canada is being forced to seriously grapple with this and many other issues linked to colonization of its First Peoples now that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has completed its work. It is slow going and there are still many problems, but there is a lot more discussion of this stuff now than there was when I was a child. The fact that it can't be swept under the rug any more is a step forward, for sure.

It is interesting to me how similar the narratives of colonization of indigenous people are in many places around the world: Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand. We are at varying points along the path to reconciliation, however. And some question whether there can be true reconciliation at all. The more articles I read like the one you posted, the more I think the real answer is to give the land back to the people it belongs to and have the chips fall where they may. Oh, but that's impractical, people say--and I suppose it is--but I know I enjoy many privileges because I am living as a settler on what is literally stolen land.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:09 PM on May 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

It only dawned on me five years ago (I am 40 now) that First Nations people were left out of national parks and history. I only came to realize this in a class about Canadian art history, of all things. And I just live an hour away from Banff. The breadth and depth of lies and omissions is horrifying :/
posted by Calzephyr at 3:25 PM on May 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

A rage-inducing instance of this I learned of recently through a podcast involved an Effigy Mounds park superintendent who stole/destroyed the bones of 40+ Native American people so that the park museum wouldn't have to give back burial items related to the bones. And then it took decades for anyone at the park to notice the bones were gone!
Home Detention for Park Service Grave Robber
When NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, was about to go into effect in 1990, the superintendent of the Effigy Mounds National Monument in eastern Iowa at the time, Thomas Munson, stole the bones of over 40 Native Americans. The monument also has a museum in its visitor’s center that displays Native artifacts found in the same burial mounds as the bones.

According to NAGPRA, if the artifacts could be linked to the bones, they would also be subject to repatriation. In other words, releasing the bones to the tribes for reburial meant also releasing the artifacts. But if the bones went away, the artifacts would remain museum property.

At least that’s how Munson understood it. So he took the bones of more than 40 ancient Natives who lived between 700 and 2,500 years ago, wrapped them in trash bags, stuck them in cardboard boxes, and shoved them in his home garage where they stayed for over 20 years. And what did he get for this heinous act of cultural larceny?

One year of home detention.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:47 PM on May 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

So much intellectual mischief comes from our love of the W-word. There was hardly such a thing as wilderness in all of the Americas in 1491--the very concept is wrapped up in racist notions.
posted by LarryC at 4:50 PM on May 7, 2018 [7 favorites]

I’m a Grand Canyon addict and I’ve camped several times at Indian Garden. It’s a little slice of paradise but the name is because it was exactly that - a garden farmed by Indians. The Havasupai have long lived in the canyon, and IG was a perfect place for them because of the year round water there. But... NPS evicted them and took their land. I’m always cognizant of that when I’m there. (On a happier note, other canyon area land was taken away from them, and they were offered money to give up their claims. They refused the money, and eventually after fighting for a long time, they got a lot of land back.)
posted by azpenguin at 5:20 PM on May 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Something always strikes me about these stories about the wilderness and removing natives, which is that humans subsume the whole environment within a century or two of figuring out how. Every wilderness is covering the remains of one or more ancient cultures. Consider the recent LIDAR finds in Guatemala about the Mayans, in which their cities prove to be vastly bigger than previously imagined, but were covered in jungle no one bothered to look under. Even more potentially horrifying are the tels of the Middle East, which are literally hills made of layers of buried villages and cities created over thousands of years of habitation.

Potentially horrifying because if you find yourself asking, "What happened to the people who were here before my culture?", Occam's razor says the answer is probably your ancestors. We have to look that fact square in the face, and that includes an honest accounting of what present-day civilization stole to become what it is. And then we have to consciously, as a country and species, stop doing this. It's crucial that we do this now, before global warming starts the next round of upheavals. I don't want this to happen to my or anyone's descendants.
posted by saysthis at 7:54 PM on May 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

revolves around the heroic preservation of “pristine wilderness,”

In many places, the heros all came *after* the removal of the (surviving) Indians followed by the removal of the 'pristine wilderness' which included tens of billions of board-feet of trees to be hurriedly 'harvested' before anyone else arrived with the money to do the same thing. Else the only thing that saved *that* wilderness is that building a railroad through it was too hard.

Then there was the gold, the oil, the fish, the ore, even the ice ... and then trying to drain the swamps so that the peat could be 'harvested' ....

THEN it was okay to keep what was left 'pristine'. At least, along the highways with trees, where people couldn't see the rape going on beyond the 'pristine' curtain.
posted by Twang at 8:50 PM on May 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

One irony of U.S. history is that the Native American tribes that went to war ended up losing and of course it was not good. But because they fought, they ended up with official recognition, treaties, and reservation land. Their tribal sovereignty is recognized. Tribal membership and tribal government is recognized.

But the "friendly" tribes who never picked up arms and just accepted the European interlopers as neighbors, took things in stride, and worked together with the European settlers and lived together as best they could?

Yeah, they were just completely steamrollered. No recognition, no land, no treaties, no anything. Many of them have had to work for decades just to become federally recognized tribes. Some had recognition, lost it, had to gain it back etc etc. Many have just been steamrollered right out of existence--not that there are no living descendants of them, because almost surely there are. But they have certainly been scattered and lost their historic identity--very often by quite deliberate policy aimed towards that end.

The Native Americans living in the Yosemite Valley, described in the article, are just one example of this dynamic.

Another I'm familiar with is the Southern Paiute tribes of Southern Utah & Nevada and northern Arizona. Some details of their situation here, here, and with quite a bit more detail here. If you want a whole book, try this.

They lost their tribal recognition in the mid 1950s and it was a complete disaster. They only started to recover from it in 1980 when President Carter signed legislation recognizing them again.

As part of the restoration they were awarded a reservation of 15,000 acres of any available federal land, of which there are many millions of acres within their historical territory. There ensued quite an embarrassing comedy of ever-reduced expectations, as the local white population made it quite clear they were welcome to any and all land available as long as it was completely worthless AND completely inaccessible.

Keep in mind that all the land in the surrounding countryside was theirs to start with, conservatively worth many billions of dollars. And it was all taken from them without any recognized treaty ever being signed or anything like reasonable payment made.

(The valley where my own ancestors settled, many hundreds of them in a few settlements eventually, was 'purchased' from a local 'chief' for something like $100 plus a horse and blanket. What this meant from the Southern Paiutes point of view is they had lost their best farming, gathering, and hunting grounds and had to go off somewhere else with far fewer resources and do the best they could there.)

At any rate, the upshot was the Southern Paiutes of Utah ended up settling for less than 1/3 of the congressionally allotted 15,000 acres. The Anglos in the area just couldn't bear to give up any more than that.

This story is briefly outlined in the section "Reservation Selection" in this article.

So . . . please keep this history in mind when current governments propose hairbrained schemes for dealing with American Indian tribal affairs. The current system has many problems but "hey let's just privatize everything and get the federal government out of everything" is a much, much worse solution than the one we currently have.
posted by flug at 10:24 PM on May 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

It is interesting to me how similar the narratives of colonization of indigenous people are in many places around the world: Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand.

Well, all four of those had the same colonizer.
posted by flabdablet at 5:49 AM on May 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

It is interesting to me how similar the narratives of colonization of indigenous people are in many places around the world: Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand.

It's not "interesting", it's the very definition of systemic racism/genocide. Destroying the lesser peoples (i.e. non-white) of the planet in as systematic a manner as possible.

It's a privilege to believe it's somehow a "coincidence" because that's what it was supposed to do: present the myth of ethnic inferiority of the lesser races to the parasitic white/settler populations that were sent to these countries to replace the indigenous non-white populations.

Basically, let's create populations throughout the planet that hate fellow human beings on the basis of not being white, and then wonder why the world is at war 500 years later.
posted by human ecologist at 7:53 AM on May 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

From the NPS link in flug's comment:
The new Mormon settlements in southwestern Utah rapidly brought an end to the Paiute’s traditional way of life. Their new settlements sat on vital Paiute hunting and gathering grounds and in the surrounding areas, livestock grazing destroyed many of the plants that were a staple of the Paiute diet. Paiutes were also denied access to their cultivating grounds near water sources, leaving them with areas mostly unfarmable.
A few years ago my wife and did a big trip through a bunch of NPS sites, visiting Pipe Spring between the North Rim and a night we spent in Park City, and then visiting Capital Reef a little over a week later. At those two parks in particular, NPS basically tells the story just like that paragraph. If you're paying attention you can pick up on the implication that Mormon settlers were effectively genocidal through both the use of guns and the taking of the water sources and the only land on which anything would grow. If you're mostly standing near rangers because you have to and you're not really listening, it's easy to miss it.

I did not come out of that trip with a lot of positive feelings about Mormons, who in addition to that often picked bad crops for the region (tobacco?), sent some horrible racists to run their communities (cf. Dixie), and just generally were the worst sorts of dimwitted, violent colonizers who left a lot of failed towns in their wake. The orchard in the middle of Capital Reef is improbable and amazing, but a lot of the history around there seems to be "Mormons took the land by force, 'allowed' natives to stay on land that wouldn't sustain them, failed to farm it successfully themselves, and either withdrew or were washed out in a flood after a few years of subsistence."
posted by fedward at 12:35 PM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

because they fought, they ended up with official recognition, treaties, and reservation land.

Very valid observation. Although having a reservation broken-up into allotments wasn't a good thing. There was seldom legal protection from predators. A conniving Euro could talk an allotment owner (perhaps in distress) into selling his/her property. 'A house divided....' (And Congress helped with timber removal ... see 1904 Steenerson Act,, Burke Act of 1926.)

In that way, for example, the White Earth Reservation came to be 90% white-owned. (They've worked to slowly buy it back.) And as of 2008, NoDak's Spirit Lake Tribe had bought back 50,000 acres, and 2/3 of the land was still owned by non-Indians.
posted by Twang at 9:42 PM on May 13, 2018

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