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nature's sanctuary

“We only have one earth. Let’s take care of it.”

Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior

When you walk into any natural, national park, you’re walking into someone’s homeland. You’re walking into somebody’s house.  You’re walking into somebody’s church. You’re walking into somebody’s place where they’ve lived since the Creator made it for them. And so you’re not walking into a wilderness area, you’re walking into someplace that has been utilized for generations upon generations in every form you could imagine.”

Gerard Baker, highest ranking Native American in NPS history

“If you go into a national park, you have stories-about the trees and about the grasses, for example, and about the animals and about the water and about all that. You also have a human story. And the human story did not start when the national parks came in.”

Gerard Baker, highest ranking Native American in NPS history


Introduction

nature's sanctuary

Nature’s Sanctuary is one way of describing the National Parks in the United States. It is, however, only a half-truth. Many of the National Parks are on land that is sacred to indigenous people who populated the land long before the Americas were discovered by Columbus. That simple truth is often overlooked by visitors to the parks, especially in the western United States. Perhaps it is time to rethink our relationship with ‘our’ national parks.

National parks stand as revered landscapes, etched into the American narrative. Yet, their creation amidst Manifest Destiny carried a heavy toll on indigenous communities. A nuanced discussion must unfold. By exploring the delicate balance between preserving these wilderness sanctuaries and respecting the sacred values of Native Americans we, as a people, can mend broken fences.

Nature’s Sanctuary: The Duality of Parks

In the collective consciousness, national parks embody Manifest Destiny’s triumph. But a tapestry of sacred significance for indigenous people lies beneath the surface. Treading this duality necessitates acknowledging the historical roots that birthed these parks and the enduring spiritual connections indigenous communities hold with these lands.

Nature’s Sanctuary: Manifest Destiny’s Legacy

Yellowstone, Sequoia, Yosemite – iconic parks with origins in Manifest Destiny. Yet, this westward expansion forcibly uprooted tribes like Tukudika and Nitsitapii. Doing so meant severing ties to ancestral territories and raising ethical questions about the cost of progress.

Persecution and Preservation

Yosemite, once a haven for the Ahwahneechee, exemplifies the paradox. Despite becoming a national park, the implementation of onerous regulations and economic pressures eroded the indigenous presence, altering the sacred landscape and dismantling deep-rooted connections.

Nature’s Sanctuary: A Turning Point

Recent initiatives, spearheaded by Secretary Haaland, symbolize a turning point. The acknowledgment of historical injustices is echoed in collaborative efforts between the Park Service and tribes, addressing derogatory names and embracing indigenous strategies for land management.

Reconciliation in Action

Co-managing federal lands, adopting native fire strategies, and bison restoration initiatives exemplify a collaborative approach. These efforts reflect a commitment to healing, respecting indigenous traditions, and fostering inclusivity within the narrative of these national sanctuaries.

Nature’s Sanctuary: Balancing Preservation and Tradition

Preserving wilderness and respecting indigenous values need not be contradictory. Recognizing past wrongs is the first step, followed by actively involving tribes in park management and amplifying their voices in the narrative. This approach can forge a harmonious balance, where preservation and tradition coexist.

Nature’s Sanctuary: The Path Forward

To genuinely honor the sacredness of national parks, the path forward involves weaving indigenous voices into the narrative. It demands recognizing past injustices We must actively work towards a united, inclusive civil religion respecting both the preservation of these natural wonders and the rich cultural traditions of the indigenous communities that share this land. It’s a journey towards a shared heritage that embraces the diversity of America’s landscapes and the multitude of cultures that call it home.

Nature’s Sanctuary: Striking a Harmonious Chord

Striking a harmonious chord between preservation and tradition requires a commitment to reexamining the narrative of national parks. As we celebrate the scenic grandeur, we must also confront the uncomfortable truths of displacement and persecution that accompanied their establishment.

Acknowledging Past Wrongs

Acknowledging past wrongs is not a mere formality but an essential step towards reconciliation. The wounds inflicted on indigenous communities during the westward expansion cannot be ignored. National parks must become spaces for acknowledging historical injustices and fostering a collective commitment to a more inclusive and compassionate future.

Nature’s Sanctuary: Active Tribal Involvement

Active involvement of tribes in park management is a vital aspect of the way forward. Indigenous communities hold generations of wisdom about sustainable land practices and their cultural significance. Collaborative decision-making, with tribes as custodians of their ancestral lands, ensures a more holistic approach to conservation and a shared responsibility for the well-being of these natural wonders.

Amplifying Indigenous Voices

Amplifying indigenous voices in the narrative of national parks is not just a symbolic gesture but a substantive shift. Ranger talks, displays, and exhibits that showcase the rich tapestry of Native American culture and history foster understanding. It’s an invitation for all visitors to connect with the deeper layers of these landscapes, embracing a collective heritage that goes beyond superficial beauty.

Nature’s Sanctuary: A Shared Heritage

The path forward leads to a shared heritage that encapsulates the awe-inspiring beauty of national parks. Additionally, recognizing the resilient traditions of indigenous peoples. It’s a journey towards a civil religion transcending Manifest Destiny’s divisive legacy. By encompassing a collective reverence for the land and the diverse cultures that call it home.

Conclusion

In navigating the sacred landscape of national parks, finding an equilibrium between preservation and tradition becomes a moral imperative. It demands not just passive admiration for nature’s wonders but an active commitment to rewriting the narrative. Only then can these sanctuaries truly become spaces where the spiritual values of indigenous people harmonize with the nation’s collective appreciation for the beauty that unites us all.

By Politics-as-Usual

Roger is a retired Professor of language and literacy. Over the past 15 years since his retirement, Roger has kept busy with reading, writing, and creating landscape photographs. In this time of National crisis, as Fascist ideas and policies are being introduced to the American people and ignored by the Mainstream Press, he decided to stand up and be counted as a Progressive American with some ideas that should be shared with as many people who care to read and/or participate in discusssions of these issues. He doesn't ask anyone to agree with his point of view, but if entering the conversation he demands civility. No conspiracy theories, no wild accusations, no threats, no disrespect will be tolerated. Roger monitors all comments and email communication. That is the only rule for entering the conversation. One may persuade, argue for a different point of view, or toss out something that has not been discussed so long as the tone remains part of a civil discussion. Only then can we find common ground and meaningful democratic change.

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