Lee Juan Tyler and Clyde Dixey join others as they march through the Yellowstone Arch on September 16.
By LORI ANN EDMO
GARDINER, Mont. — Various tribal leaders gathered September 16 in Gardiner, Mont., including Fort Hall Business Council member Lee Juan Tyler, to urge the federal government to rename a valley and mountain in Yellowstone National Park.
Tribal leaders say Hayden Valley should be changed to Buffalo Nations Valley and Mount Doane should be renamed First Peoples Mountain. The current names are associated with Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden who advocated the extermination of tribal people in an 1872 document. U.S. Army Lt. Gustavus Doane participated in the 1870 Marias River Massacre that killed 173 Piikani.
Chief Stan Grier of the Piikani Nation of Alberta, Canada said tribal nations have been calling for the names to be changed for years. He said Lt. Doane was a war criminal and he repeated Doane’s own words from his letter of application to be Yellowstone National Park superintendent, “I was the first and last man in Piikani camp January 23, 1870. Greatest slaughter of Indians ever made by U.S. Troops.” Grier said many more of their people were murdered under Doane’s command than the government’s record of 173 victims. The authorities admitted that only 15 men were of fighting age, the rest were elders, women and children, he continued.
Changing the name to “First People’s Mountain” would not only honor the memories of Piikani victims of the Marias Massacre but also in remembrance of those who suffered the same barbarity at the hands of those similar to Doane, Chief Grier said. “It also recognizes the 10,000 year plus connection Native peoples have to this sacred place.”
Grier said Hayden advocated the extermination of tribal people in 1872, the same year Grant signed into law the act that established Yellowstone National Park. He said renaming Hayden Valley to Buffalo Nations Valley is in honor of all tribal nations that have treaty rights and interests to Greater Yellowstone and an ancestral connection to the sacred landscape and our relatives – the Buffalo Nation.
Chief Stan Grier presents signed document.
FHBC member Lee Juan Tyler said it felt good to be present as Yellowstone is the homelands of our people. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes have Fort Bridger Treaty hunting rights under Article IV, “We have to make sure it’s protected for our future.” He said there needs to be more habitat for the buffalo and the grizzly. “They want to destroy the habitat and extract the minerals but not considering what happens,” he continued. Tyler said even though Yellowstone is beautiful it’s still small. One of the reasons for the gathering is because of some of the names put here by Euro Americans that are tied to a lot of atrocities of Native American people. He said the proposed names also needed to have Indian names from Shoshone-Bannock tribal elders. “People should know the truth – the Bannock Trail came through here, we fought here and I’m glad to be part of this, life is going by fast and we need to keep sharing for the future,” Tyler said.
After he spoke, he sang a song he composed while on the road to Yellowstone that included, “Bless this land, bless it for all of us, we need to take care of it”
FHBC member Lee Juan Tyler signs document.
Louise Dixey, Shoshone-Bannock Cultural Resources director, also spoke prior to Tyler’s arrival. She advised those present that Yellowstone is Shoshone and Bannock country and our people have used the land for thousands of years through oral history and written documentation. “Our people traveled the Bannock Trail and the Shoshoni trails through Yellowstone,” she continued. “Our story is written on the walls here in Yellowstone. A lot of non-Indians stated the Indian people didn’t use this country that was to write their story. Today we tell our own stories.”
Dixey said so many people have written about our tribal people that has been inaccurate. “The last people pushed out of Yellowstone were Bannocks, they were rounded up pushed to an island in the middle of Yellowstone Lake, the agent from Fort Hall had to come get them but they refused to go to the reservation. They wanted to continue to hunt, fish and travel after buffalo on the Bannock Trail.” She said historically Shoshone-Bannock people traveled along the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers from Salmon River country.
Dixey said Map Rock along the Snake River shows Yellowstone where the tribal people crossed the river. “We know our history.” She appreciated Chief Grier’s comments. “We are the Shoshone-Bannock people – we will continue to return to this area, we have cultural gatherings, we harvest here,” she said. “It’s unfortunate throughout history Yellowstone refused to acknowledge our people but we appreciate the efforts of our tribal leaders in renaming these places – its important enough for us to be here and fully support these efforts.”
Before the speeches began, Piikani leaders sang with hand drums and walked through the Yellowstone Arch into Gardiner. Supporters held signs with “change the name” written on them before going into the community center.
Other tribes represented included Crow Creek Sioux and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
Chief Grier said they’re also asking Yellowstone Park officials to work with all of the associated tribes of Yellowstone to produce interpretive signage and roadside exhibits that can be placed in pullouts throughout the valley so the four million visitors a year can learn about the Native connection to the landscape. And so that Yellowstone will no longer be “Indian-free” as Superintendent Norris intended it.
After going through the Yellowstone Arch again, tribal leaders walked to the Yellowstone Park sign where they presented Yellowstone Deputy Superintendent Pat Kinney with the documents proposing the name change that included tribal leaders and other signatures. Kinney welcomed the leaders to YNP and said they know it’s an important area for the tribes. “We came today to listen, to learn and understand your perspective, we carry this information back to the superintendent to make sure he’s aware of your concerns. We know this is a sensitive issue and will be sure to give it great consideration.” Kinney said he looks forward to continuing the dialogue.
The U.S. Geological Survey’s Board on Geographic Names is responsible for the renaming process.