Published September 25, 2017
RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA – The Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association (GPTCA) has given an unequivocal response to Yellowstone National Park and the US Geological Service’s (USGS) Board of Geographic Names. Yellowstone National Park Superintendent, Dan Wenk, remains uncommitted to petitions from tribal nations to change the names of Mount Doane and Hayden Valley in the Park, while the US Board of Geographic Names claims not to have received a submission for consideration, despite acknowledging that it has been aware “for a couple of years” of tribes’ unified call to change the names. Both Yellowstone National Park and the USGS received the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC) 2014 resolution that demanded, “These names must be changed.”
“It is, as many tribal leaders have protested, shameful, that Yellowstone National Park continues to honor a war criminal, Lieutenant Gustavus C. Doane, and a white supremacist who advocated for the genocide of indigenous people, Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden, by retaining their names on major features of Yellowstone National Park. These categorizations are not opinion, but fact, based upon the written statements of both Doane and Hayden,” writes GPTCA and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman, Harold Frazier, in a letter to the Board of Geographic Names and Yellowstone Park.
To remove any possible misinterpretation on the part of the US Board of Geographic Names, Chairman Frazier emphasizes in the letter that it is, “a formal submission to change the names.”
In the Black Hills this weekend, leaders from the 16 sovereign Tribal Nations in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska signed the “First People’s Mountain & Buffalo Nations Valley” Declaration, a copy of which Chief Stan Grier of the Piikani Nation presented to Yellowstone Deputy Superintendent Pat Kenney last Saturday, after a coalition of tribal leaders marched through the Park’s Roosevelt Arch following presentations in the gateway town of Gardiner, Montana.
The GPTCA nations were joined by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota. “These names must be changed. It is an affront to our people and to our ancestors. We must ensure that our future generations do not have to endure this indignity,” commented Chairman Charles Vig as he signed the Declaration, and then added the Shakopee Mdewakanton to the 170-nations that have signed the Grizzly Treaty.
“All of the GPTCA tribes are categorized by the federal government as Associated Tribes of Yellowstone,” added GPTCA Executive Director A. Gay Kingman, to emphasize the standing of the Great Sioux Nation and the Oceti Sakowin’s sister tribes in the matter.
“The Great Sioux Nation’s treaty rights in Greater Yellowstone are too often overlooked, but both the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties include lands within that region,” explained Chairman Brandon Sazue of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. “Our ancestors fought a war through 1872 and 1873 to stop the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad along the Yellowstone, and to protect what lay beyond it, including the tribal lands that were annexed to establish Yellowstone National Park,” he continued.
“The government has done everything it can to sever our people from Greater Yellowstone, but we remember. We are at the forefront of this fight, and the fight to protect the grizzly, because we remember. Other tribes remember meeting our ancestors there. No tribe has been in that region longer than the Shoshone-Bannock, and Councilman Lee Juan Tyler shares accounts about our people there,” said Chairman Sazue.
A late 19th century Congressional map of the region supports the Great Sioux Nation’s position, which has been backed by the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC). IITC Board Director, Bill Means, also signed the name-change Declaration in the Black Hills. Founded in 1974 at a gathering of some 98 Tribal Nations at Standing Rock, the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) represents Indigenous peoples from North, Central, South America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.
The GPTCA signing of the Yellowstone Declaration coincided with President Trump reviving his “many sides” statement made after Neo-Nazis invaded Charlottesville, VA for a white supremacists’ “Unite the Right” rally that former KKK Grand Wizard, David Duke, said was organized, “to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump, to take our country back.” As tribal leaders signed the Declaration to change the names of the dictionary-definition of a war criminal and a white supremacist, Trump railed against predominantly African-American athletes in the NFL and NBA.
“Total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect of everything that we stand for,” the President inveighed at his rally in Huntsville, Alabama, after calling any NFL player who exercises his First Amendment right to protest racial inequality “a son of a bitch” for doing so by taking a knee during the national anthem.
“President Trump has returned to the dog whistle ‘our heritage’ with the emphasis on ‘our’ to his supporters. ‘They’re trying to take away our culture. They’re trying to take away our history,’ the President preached to his faithful after ‘Blood and soil’ fouled the streets of Charlottesville,” began Chief Stan Grier, Chief of the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy.
“For our part, I can categorically say, ‘No, we’re not trying to take away your history, Mr. President.’ When these names are changed, have roadside exhibits that explain who Doane and Hayden were, what they did and promoted, and why the names were changed. That, Mr. President, is not ‘taking away your history or culture,’ it’s confronting aspects of it. It’s ‘our history’ that has been ‘taken away’ from Yellowstone since its second superintendent, Philetus Norris, decreed that the park must be presented as ‘Indian-free,’” demonstrated Grier.
Lieutenant Gustavus C. Doane led the slaughter of Piikani women and children in what became known as the Marias River or Baker Massacre at first light on January 23, 1870. Of the 200-plus victims, Indian Agent W. A. Pease revealed that only fifteen were men or boys with the ability to fight. Doane consistently bragged about the atrocity, citing it on his 1889 application to be Yellowstone’s superintendent as, “The greatest slaughter of Indians ever made by U.S. Troops.” Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden advocated the “extermination” of tribal people in 1872, just as Yellowstone National Park was established. “If extermination is the result of non-compliance, then compulsion is an act of mercy,” Hayden wrote of any “sons of the Plains” who resisted ethnic cleansing and removal to reservations.
“The lower race” is how Hayden categorized tribal people, and, in his words, “mixed bloods” were “tainted by the negro element” and “half breeds” by “vices” from “the indolence and wantonness of their Indian mothers.” Hayden denied that the “treatment” of slaves was “barbarous,” and claimed, “many seemingly cruel laws were greatly needed as measures of self-protection on the part of the whites.” Hayden offered a foundational statement for white supremacy when he wrote in 1883, “Equally incontestable is the pre-eminence, both intellectual and moral, of the white race, which thus forms a natural aristocracy in the truest sense of the word.”
“For healing, reconciliation, and a new era of education and cross-cultural cooperation, Mount Doane should be changed to First People’s Mountain, and Buffalo Nations Valley should replace Hayden’s name,” Chairman Frazier closed the GPTCA’s submission to the US Board of Geographic Names.
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