The People of the Glacier Lands Taken to Create US National Parks

Amid the renewed focus on the enduring impacts of race and racism exposed by the rhetoric and policy of the Trump administration, many people are taking a look back at two foundational acts in the making of America: slavery and the genocide against native Americans. Indigenous peoples inhabited the lands that now form the US National Parks for thousands of years before they were forced off to create the parks. As settlers expanded westward Native Americans were dispossessed of their lands, often brutally. The beloved national parks were established through the taking of these lands, including some present-day glacier or glacially-formed terrain, which figure prominently in the undertold history of the park systems’ creation.

“That’s how we think we lost it,” said Blackfoot tribal representative, John Murray, referring to a murky 1895 agreement ceding the Blackfoot tribe’s land to the US government. “When I was a kid all the elders talked about when the 99 years was going to be up. They all believed we would get it back,” he told GlacierHub.

Murray is the Blackfoot Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, a designated representative of federally-recognized tribes. The land in the northernmost American stretch of the Rocky Mountains, which his people thought would be returned to them, is now Glacier National Park, the “Crown of the Continent.” But before it became America’s most glorified national park upon establishment in 1910, it was inhabited by Murray’s ancestors, the Blackfeet.

The deep injustice felt by Murray and the Blackfeet is shared by indigenous people across the country. Though taking of Native American lands and bodies is taught in American schools, many of the 318 million visitors to the national parks last year were likely unaware of the dispossession of those lands to create them.

Members of the U.S. 6th Cavalry pose with the Fallen Monarch tree in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Yosemite, 1899 (Source: National Parks Service).

“Arguably the best idea America ever had was our national parks system,” a recent Thrillist article ranking the top 25 national parks in the United States began. “More than 300 million people visit every year, pouring over $35 billion into the national economy.”

The sentiment expressed in the Thrillist piece is a common refrain. The national parks are vaunted crown jewels of the nation, provide outdoor vacation opportunities, and are indispensable to local economies. The pristine lands and the people who had the presence of mind to protect them for future generations are enshrined in American lore and intrinsic to the country’s national pride.

Glaciated and glacially-formed landscapes were among the first to be established as parks, including Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite. The people who lived in those areas when colonizers arrived are among the most aggrieved.

In a painful irony, colonizers of the wild American west sought to produce wilderness by depopulating it, through force, coercion, and guile. 

Glacier National Park’s most iconic piece of ice, Grinnell Glacier, shown in 1910 and 2017 (Source: National Parks Service).

Uninhabited wilderness had to be created before it could be preserved, writes Mark David Spence, a national parks historian and author of Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks. A wilderness safe for tourism could not coexist with the indigenous peoples who had inhabited the land for generations. 

The American ideal of wilderness was incompatible with habited land and “represented the one great flaw in the western landscape,” Spence wrote in his book. “According to the complaints of outdoor enthusiasts in the late nineteenth century, it seemed a wonder that any forests or animals remained in North America since Indians practically based their entire existence on the destruction of wilderness.”

The idea that indigenous peoples weren’t suited to properly care for the natural environs, which they safeguarded for generations, became a justification for their removal.

During the Pinedale Glaciation, a late phase of the most recent ice age, which ended between 13,000 and 14,000 years ago, Yellowstone was covered in ice 4,000 feet thick, leaving behind glacial features that continue to awe tourists today. At the time of Yellowstone National Park’s “discovery” by the Washburn Expedition in 1870, it was teeming with life. Thousands of people from as many as 26 indigenous groups including Bannock, various Shoshone, and Mountain Crow had been living there for generations. Early park officials understood that fear of Indian attack would prevent tourists from experiencing the wonders of Yellowstone. Through military force, the American ideal of wilderness was created by driving the groups off the land. The Wilderness Act of 1964 reinforced the idea, defining wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Eight Crow prisoners in present-day Yellowstone National Park, 1887 (Source: WikiCommons).

“Tourists and park managers believed that only the citizens of an emerging world power could experience the mountains with appropriate awe and reverence,” writes Spence. Awe and reverence the indigenous peoples certainly had––but they weren’t as interested in extraction of resources. “It wasn’t us who wanted to dig up the park,” said Murray, the Blackfoot representative. “It was our people and our values that kept places like Glacier National Park in the status they are so it could be declared a national park.” It wasn’t until prospectors fully inspected the purchased land, which yielded no minerals to exploit, that an alternative use for the land was imagined, including game hunting and scientific inquiry. But that vision would not include the land’s original inhabitants.

According to a 2012 study published in Conservation and Society, “Blackfeet suggested that the government deceived the illiterate Blackfeet leaders in the written terms of the 1895 Agreement,” wrote the authors. “Some tribal members claimed that the land was not sold, but “forcibly taken” even though “it might look like on paper that both parties agreed”.” The shadowy transaction occurred over several days of negotiation, included suspect language translation, and documentation only by the party holding the pen, paper, and legal terminology. The Blackfeet maintain they had only signed a 50-year lease of their land, not a cessation, and disagree on the park boundaries. Even the duration of the land lease isn’t agreed upon in the annals of Blackfeet history, much of which is unwritten, all but ensuring indefensibility of their claims in US courts of law, where material evidence reigns.

The second largest remaining glacier in Glacier National Park, Blackfoot Glacier, photographed in 2012, bears the tribe’s name (Source: Troy Smith/Flickr).

The eviction of the Blackfeet from their ancestral lands did more than displace people. “Exclusion and restriction from park lands and resources created a physical, personal, communal, inter-generational, and nutritional separation for the Blackfeet Nation from a crucial part of their homeland,” Spence told GlacierHub.

According to Spence, advertisements for Glacier National Park referred to Blackfeet as the “Glacier Park Indians” and often encouraged visitors to come and acquaint themselves with these “specimens of a Great Race soon to disappear.” Murray, the Blackfeet tribal representative, recalled park officials importing elk from Yellowstone and hiring Indians to stand around in buckskin regalia. “Down through history, Glacier Park has not been a very good neighbor,” Murray said.

“During the 1910s and ’20s, Yosemite National Park hosted popular Field Days where white visitors could dress in stereotypical garb,” wrote Hunter Oatman-Stanford in a 2018 article for Collectors Weekly. Where “indigenous employees were encouraged to act out white conceptions of native life.” The displays were designed to enhance tourists’ wilderness experience.

Blackfeet in the Two Medicine area, 1914 (Source: National Parks Service)

Indigenous people were consummate stewards of the land they inhabited and relied upon for every aspect of their lives from their strategic use of fire to their prudent hunting of game. A recent global assessment report issued by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services underscored the importance of protecting indigenous and local knowledge, people, and their ways of life if nature’s contributions to people are to be maintained. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report also notes increasing appreciation of local and indigenous knowledge in addressing land degradation issues.

The US government has done little to make reparations toward indigenous groups. In some recent instances, the Trump administration has exacted further damage. In 2017, President Trump signed the largest rollback of federally protected land in US history, slashing Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and halving nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante, both sites of sacred land to many Native American tribes. The president’s new Secretary of the Interior wants to open Chaco Canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Pueblo cultural area for oil drilling. The fight to protect sacred Blackfeet sites is ongoing, as a challenge to industrialize the Badger-Two Medicine area, land considered to be the cradle of Blackfeet culture, pends in the US Court of Appeals.

Sadie and Suzie McGowan, of the Mono Lake Paiute, standing in meadow near Yosemite Falls, 1901 (Source: San Joaquin Valley Library).

Signs of a shift toward an understanding of historical responsibility for dispossession of national park lands are taking place locally, however, including in some glacier parks. The Southern Me-Wuk have reclaimed seven acres of land in the heart of Yosemite National Park to reconstruct a village. “This is really unique for a park,” said Scott Carpenter, the park’s cultural resources program manager, to the San Francisco Chronicle. “We can’t give all of Yosemite back to the tribes…but at least they can get some recognition of their story and continuity of their culture.”

In Alaska, Mount McKinley was recently renamed Denali, restoring the name to its indigenous heritage. In Glacier Bay National Park a newly constructed tribal house begins a fresh chapter in the contentious relationship between the Huna Tlingit, a Native American tribe, and the National Park Service. In the American southwest all tourist excursions into Utah’s popular Antelope Canyon are run by Navajo-owned businesses. Earlier this week the Cherokee Nation appointed its first delegate to the US Congress.

Indigenous representatives and scholars agree that the National Park Service will continue  need to consider new approaches to park-tribal relations, including the integration of cultural and natural resource management, a reconceptualizing of wilderness as one compatible with sustainable use, and sharing control with indigenous groups through co-management and joint permitting systems.

Ameliorating the injustices that occurred 150 years ago at the hands people no longer alive won’t right the wrongs, but it’s a start.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Trump’s Interior Pick Wants To Heighten California Dam

Native Americans Call to Change Names of Yellowstone Sites

Tribal House in Glacier Bay Park Recognizes Huna Tlingit

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Roundup: Government Shutdown Impacts National Parks

The current government shutdown has now entered its third week, and it doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon.

The shutdown began on midnight EST on Saturday, December 22, making it the third government shutdown of 2018. President Trump wanted to move forward with building a Mexican border wall, which would require an estimated $5 billion. The House of Representatives, in which the Democrats are a majority, has been unwilling to go above the current $1.3 billion budget for general border security. Trump has threatened to extend the shutdown for a long period until he gets the demanded funding. Click here for a breakdown of the events leading up to the shutdown. 

This shutdown has left about 800,000 government workers without their salaries. Many have shared their personal stories with CNN about not being able to pay bills and rent on time. They describe their difficulties in providing for their children and families. Many have sought temporary jobs to help keep themselves afloat. Vital public benefit programs might also be at risk. According to CBS Newsfunding for SNAP, the national food stamp program, has not been allocated since the start of January. If the shutdown continues through March, no money will remain for the millions of Americans who rely on this program for food security.

Many national parks have also felt the impact of the government shutdown, including some major destinations home to glaciers. Parks are still largely accessible to the public, and entrance fees are not being collected. However, the lack of public services has been a major issue for visitors and local businesses. Here are some glacier parks that are currently suffering some impacts as a result of the shutdown.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State has had a partial shutdown on some parts of the park. This closure has affected tourism and traffic in the area which would normally be high during this time and around the Christmas and New Year holidays. The popular road to Paradise has experienced a forced closure, and local firms around the entrance have been vocal about the lost business. Local retailers, restaurants, and hotels in particular are being challenged by the lack of tourism. According to The Olympian, business owners that rely on the tourism industry have reported a decrease of sales and hotel reservations than would normally be expected at this time of year.  

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park, located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, has had significant problems with sanitation and waste. Restrooms have been closed and there are no park staff available for supervision. Some visitors of the park have opted to dispose of their various forms of waste alongside some of the roads. Mountains of garbage and human waste has led to some closures in areas of the park, like Wawona Road and Hodgson Meadows. National Geographic says that national parks like Yosemite face long-term damage from the government shutdown, and parks should be closed completely to prevent further harm to the environment.

GlacierHub spoke with a motel employee from Yosemite Cedar Lodge, who told us how business has been affected since the shutdown. According to our source, who wished to remain anonymous, there hasn’t been a large change in business, although some guests have left early. She told us that it’s hard to say exactly if it’s because of the government shutdown, but it could also be due to the recent nearby fires or other factors as well. As for the waste situation, we were told that having no ranger supervision in the parks has allowed guests to act without restraint.

The lack of park supervision may also be a contributing factor to a recent death at Yosemite. Since the start of the shutdown, three people have died in national parks. One tragedy took place in Yosemite on Christmas day, where a man slipped down a hill and fell into a river, injuring his head. Investigation of the incident was delayed because of the ongoing shutdown. A study that draws on data from 2005 to 2016 indicates that about 1.1 person dies per month in Yosemite, roughly 0.6 per month in Glen Canyon and 0.4 in Great Smoky, the three locations where the deaths occurred. Though people have died over the years in these parks, the deaths in recent weeks are at a more frequent rate than usual, suggesting that the government shutdown and lack of services may have contributed to this pattern. 

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Some parks have received visitors but with limited activity. Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks have remained open during the shutdown, although visitor services is unavailable. In a statement for the Casper Star-Tribune, Deputy Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail said that visitors to Grand Teton should take caution for their own personal safety, as there are no staff available for guidance and assistance. Entrances are not staffed, and the park’s websites and social media accounts are not being maintained or updated, leaving the public uninformed on current conditions.

In Yellowstone, winter routes remain open although gates are not staffed and government facilities are not available. All regulations for snow-related activities remain in place, and all buildings and bathrooms are closed. Community members in the Yellowstone area have recently taken matters into their own hands. Concerned about the lack of care of park facilities, local residents have gathered to clean outhouses and take out trash. Businesses have donated supplies to help with the much needed cleanup efforts.

Glacier National Park

Some glacier destinations, however, have not been heavily impacted. The shutdown has made little difference at Glacier National Park, which is usually quiet during the winter with road closures from heavy snows. Bathrooms are still closed because of the shutdown, but trash cans are not reported to be overflowing due to the low amount of traffic relative to other parks. Businesses have said that they haven’t been affected much, and conditions are as typically expected despite the shutdown.

GlacierHub spoke with Mauri Pelto, professor of environmental science Nichols College and director of the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project. Pelto also does work with NASA Goddard and the USGS. He told us that the shutdown has prevented some NASA glacier projects and programs from being executed properly. The USGS, which tracks ongoing conditions in the national parks, currently conducts monitoring. Weather and environmental observations at the national parks with glaciers have been collected but are not being reported by the U.S. government, jeopardizing long-term projects.

“Sometimes shutdowns, even relatively short shutdowns, can push the planning and budgeting process for some of these programs, which can greatly affect future research,” stated Pelto. He also described the effects on the Northern Cascades National Park in Washington. Roadways are mainly forest roadways, which have also closed as a result of the shutdown. Smaller roadways have not received maintenance since the shutdown, and there are concerns as to how conditions will be once the roads open up again, whenever that may be.

There is very little information on conditions at the Northern Cascades and other national parks on the U.S. National Park Services webpage. Lack of information on closures, visitor services, and tips for taking precaution during the shutdown period greatly impacts tourism and safety. Although parks are still mostly accessible, proper staff supervision and visitor services are needed to ensure the safety of visitors and the overall wellbeing of the parks.

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Comment Period Still Open on Proposed Fee Hikes at National Parks

Photo of Denali
Mt. Denali in Denali National Park peaking through the clouds (Source: Mark Stevens/Creative Commons).

Glaciers are an integral part of many national parks in the United States. They have helped shape some of the country’s most iconic landscapes like Yellowstone and enrich spectacular scenery in other parks like Mount Rainier, Denali and Glacier. However, on October 24, the National Park Service (NPS) announced a proposed increase in peak-season entry fees at 17 national parks, including at several parks with glaciers. In some cases the proposal could more than double the single vehicle entry fee from $30 to $70, creating obstacles for low and middle income visitors wanting to enjoy America’s natural splendor.

The NPS opened the proposed entrance fee hike to a public comment period that runs until December 22. Citizens are encouraged to provide feedback on the proposal to help determine if and where the entry fee increase will be put in place. The revenue generated from the entry fee increase would be used to improve infrastructure like roads and bathrooms in National Parks, the NPS said. It is estimated to add an additional $70 million in annual revenue, a 34 percent increase in comparison to the $200 million revenue total for 2016.

The 17 national parks where the proposed increase would be implemented are the busiest in the system, according to the NPS. Many of these parks, including Denali, Glacier, Grand Teton, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Olympic, and Yosemite, contain glaciers or have been molded by past glaciations. The complete list of parks impacted by the fee hike can be found here.

Photo of Mt Rainer
Mt. Rainer in Mount Rainer National Park (Source: Eric Prado/Creative Commons).

When one thinks of the birth of federal parks in the United States, they may conjure images of the geysers of Yellowstone, the nation’s first national park. Nonetheless, glaciers are rightly considered the old and faithful natural feature that led to the formation of our parks. A new paper published in Earth Sciences History by Denny M. Capps, the park geologist of Denali National Park, for example, details the role of glaciers and glacier research in the development of U.S. National Parks.

Capps documents that the history of glaciers and national parks starts with the Yosemite Grant Act in 1864, eight years before the establishment of Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park. The act, signed by Abraham Lincoln, set aside land for use by the public for recreation for the first time in the United States. Four years later, naturalist John Muir traveled to Yosemite for the first time and was deeply enthralled with the landscape. During his time at Yosemite, Muir conducted some of the first research on glaciers and fought to preserve the park by founding the Sierra Club. Next, in 1872, came the signing of the Yellowstone Act by Ulysses S. Grant establishing Yellowstone National Park. The act states that the area was “dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” And although there is a history of entrance fees, these fees were historically kept low and affordable.

Photo of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park (Source: Wayne Hsieh/Creative Commons).

The next significant moment for glaciers and national parks came in 1916 with the formation of the NPS through the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916 signed by Woodrow Wilson. Capps writes that the Organic Act focused on conserving scenery, natural objects, historic objects, and wildlife, four elements he argues are supported by geology and glaciers. Glaciers embody the definition of geologic heritage put forth by the NPS Geologic Resources Division, according to Capps. The definition states that noteworthy geologic features are preserved for the values they provide to society including scientific, aesthetic, cultural, ecosystem, educational, recreational, and tourism, among others. The natural beauty of Yosemite and the educational value of the recession of glaciers in Glacier are two examples Capps provides.

Glaciers continue to enhance some of the most iconic landscapes in the United States, providing natural beauty for the public to enjoy. The NPS’s proposed entry fee hike could impact American citizen’s accessibility to these parks. Since its announcement the proposal has been met with mixed reviews. Some news outlets like Slate have voiced support for the increase, citing perpetual underfunding and overcrowding, while others like the Denver Post call it a “slap to the face to low income families.”

In response to the proposal, the National Park Conservation Association (NPCA) stated, “We should not increase fees to such a degree as to make these places – protected for all Americans to experience – unaffordable for some families to visit. The solution to our parks’ repair needs cannot and should not be largely shouldered by its visitors.” Nick Janssen, who has climbed Denali and owns a packraft rental company in the area spoke to GlacierHub about the proposed fee hike. Janssen echoed the NPCA’s view stating that although park fees are not new, an increase of this magnitude “prohibits those of lower means from enjoying what should be a basic privilege for all.”

Glacier National Park (Source: Seth King/Creative Commons).

While the entry fee proposal would raise needed funds and possibly reduce overcrowding that negatively impacts sensitive areas, there are other options available. One of these options is the National Park Service Legacy Act of 2017. The bipartisan act, introduced to Congress in March, would direct revenue from annual oil and gas royalties into a restoration fund until 2047. The NPCA has endorsed the act, with its president Theresa Pierno stating that the “bipartisan, bicameral proposal makes a strong investment that our parks desperately need and deserve.”

Is a restoration fund the solution? Or are park entry hikes the right way to fund improvements? Ultimately, it is up to the American public to voice their opinions before the comment periods ends on December 22 at 11:59pm.

If interested in commenting on the proposal you can do so here, and when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner and reflect on what you are thankful for, you might reflect on living in a democracy where one person can submit a comment and positively impact a nation.

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Roundup: French Presidential Visit, Trek Itinerary, and Dangerous Glacial Lakes

French president visits glacier to witness climate change

Francois Hollande
Iceland’s President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, right, and France’s President Francois Hollande, left, talk on the Solheimajokull glacier, in Iceland on Oct. 16 (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, Pool).

“PARIS — The French president took a few steps on an Icelandic glacier Friday to experience firsthand the damage caused by global warming, ahead of major U.N. talks on climate change in Paris this year. Francois Hollande went to the shrinking Solheimajokull glacier, where the ice has retreated by more than 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) since annual measurements began in 1931.”

To read more about the President’s visit, click here.

 

How to find Yosemite’s disappearing glacier

Lyell Glacier
Photo of Lyell Glacier from 1903 on site at Lyell Glacier last week in high country of Yosemite National Park (Courtesy of Josh Helling, The Chronicle)

“The Lyell Glacier, once a mile wide and Yosemite’s largest glacier when measured by John Muir in 1872, could melt off and disappear in as soon as five years, according to park geologist Greg Stock, if warm temperatures at high elevations continue. Chronicle outdoors writer Tom Stienstra visited the park to report on the glacier’s vanishing. This is the trek itinerary.”

Click here to read more.

 

Global warming creating dangerous glacier lakes in Himalayas, finds study

Life-threatening flood from Chorabari lake in 2013 (Courtesy of the Hindustan Times)
Life-threatening flood from Chorabari lake in 2013 (Courtesy of the Hindustan Times)

“As the black clouds heavily pregnant with water vapour hovered over Dehradun on June 15, 2013, it looked ominous. Around 13,000 feet above the sea level, rain was already tanking up Chorabari Lake, a water body created by melting glaciers. On June 16 midnight, the heavy rain caused the lake’s rock bank to collapse, sending down a flash flood that swept through the holy Himalayan pilgrimage site Kedarnath, killing 5,000 people.

There are 1,266 such Chorabari lakes in Uttarakhand’s Himalayan regions, some of which have been created fresh by the rapid retreat of glaciers due to global warming, found a study by Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, an autonomous body of the central government.”

To read more about the study’s findings, click here.

 

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