National park could revert to Native American tribes

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Tribal members say more needs to be done to tell the story of tribal ties to the land, and some believe the tribes should be responsible.

NISQUALLY INDIAN COMMUNITY, Washington – The creation of a national park system has been called America’s “best idea”.

The members of the tribe have a better idea: to donate park properties to Native American tribes with historical ties to the land.

“When you say, ‘Is it a crazy idea to have us run it? No, we will always be there. We’re not going anywhere. The crew who run it now, there is no continuity, ”said Hanford McCloud, council member of the Nisqually Indian tribe.

The tribe has not officially requested a land transfer, but it is an idea they are pursuing.

McCloud supports the idea of ​​returning federally owned lands to tribes in the form of national parks, which is the subject of an article in Atlantic.

McCloud said the National Park System does not do enough to celebrate the history or current relationship between the property and the tribes, who depended on the land long before they were designated as national parks.

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“People who come to visit the mountain say, ‘Where are all the natives? We come to see them. We want to hear their story, not the park ranger.

Greg Dudgeon became director of Mount Rainier National Park in July, but said there was room for improvement when it came to national parks telling the stories of Indigenous peoples.

“We can do better,” Dudgeon said. “I have not yet had the opportunity to have the conversations with the tribes that are going to be so important to understand: what are the stories? How should we tell them? And is it still appropriate for us to tell them? And I would probably suggest not.

Evidence of past tribal ties to the park can be found at the property on trails dating back thousands of years, park staff have said.

The park created a designated area in 2015 for members of the Nisqually tribe to camp and hold ceremonies.

An exhibit at the Paradise Area Visitor Center details tribal ties, and plans for a renovated visitor center at Ohanapecosh Campground will include an “engaging and interactive” exhibit celebrating and honoring past and current ties to the park. , said the spokesperson for Mount Rainier. Terry Wildy.

She said the park has made it a priority to include tribes in efforts to reintroduce wildlife to the park.

Wildy said Mount Rainier National Park had also been approached to work on a pilot project with the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association.

According to a press release from the association, the project “will help facilitate a regular, solid and meaningful dialogue between the tribes and the NPS”.

Hanford McCloud trained interpretive staff on the tribe’s connection to the land and he is briefly featured in the educational film played at the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center in Paradise.

But he said more needs to be done to tell the story of tribal ties to the land, and he thinks the tribes should be responsible.

“These legends, they go back thousands of years to our people. And when we tell them, it turns you on, ”McCloud said.

“It is unfortunate that we still have this battle with the federal government to try to reclaim our lands that were originally ours,” said Willie Frank, III, president of the Nisqually Indian tribe.

Her father, Billy Frank, Jr., has been arrested dozens of times fighting for tribal fishing rights. Frank, Jr. is now known as a civil rights hero. His statue will soon represent the state at the United States Capitol in Washington DC

Frank’s son, Jr. said the tribe had new allies in this latest battle with the federal government.

Home Secretary Debra Haaland is the first Native American presidential cabinet member and Charles Sams is the first Native American candidate to head the National Park Service.

“I have a feeling that with this current administration it will be one of the best shots we’ve had,” said Frank, III.

A spokesperson for Home Secretary Haaland said the department would not comment on the matter, but in an email he wrote: “We are committed to our trust and treaty obligations. in the Interior, which includes collaborative management of federal lands “.

The Nisqually and Squaxin Island tribes have contacted the Home Secretary’s office, inviting the secretary to visit their reservations and discuss access to national park ownership.

“We would like to explore, with our brothers and sisters, the acquisition of land in return,” said Ray Peters, the Intergovernmental Tribal Liaison of the Squaxin Island Tribe.

Peters said that at the very least, the Squaxin Tribe would like to see more of the park set aside for tribal use.

In a KING 5 News poll, conducted in October, Investigation in the United States asked 650 adults in Washington state if the U.S. government should return national parks to Native Americans.

Results were divided with 43% of respondents saying yes, 32% responding no and 25% saying they were not sure.


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