Innovative Park Programs Help Tell Native American Stories to a New Generation

Danielle GrieserNPF Blog
A group of students smiling at the camera in the desert at Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park — National Park Service

Designated by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906, Arizona’s Montezuma Castle National Monument became one of the first national monuments, preserving cliff dwellings in North America and showcasing the Sinagua culture’s ingenious use of the desert landscape to prosper for generations. Sixty years later, Georgia’s Ocmulgee National Monument was added to the National Park System to celebrate the many different Native American cultures that comprise over 17,000 years of history at the park. These are just two of the many national parks across the country that interpret the history, culture, and contributions of Native Americans in the U.S.

To help share and preserve the diverse traditions that make America so unique, the National Park Foundation supports programs that connect tribal communities to the important stories of this land’s indigenous people, places, and events.

Retracing A Bitter Path

Over 18 days, Cherokee youth between the ages of 16 to 24 biked approximately 950 miles along the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. The National Park Foundation supported this extensive trek, known as the Remember the Removal Bicycle Ride. The youth retraced the route from Georgia to Oklahoma that was used to remove the Cherokee Nation during the winter of 1838-39. In 2018, 12 cyclists participated in the 7-state bike ride, learning about Cherokee history and heritage, conducting community outreach events, growing as individuals, and sharing the experience as a team. The youth leadership program encouraged young people to become ambassadors of the Cherokee Nation and provided them the opportunity to talk about their experience at public events along the bike route.

Social Studies and Sciences in Saguaro

A Native American student taking science measurements at Saguaro National Park
National Park Service

For many students, a visit to a national park is a way to learn more about their culture and heritage. With support from the National Park Foundation, Saguaro National Park participated in Hands on the Land, a program focused on bringing Native American students to their local national park. During the 2017-2018 school year, more than 100 students from local bicultural schools for Tohono O’odham youth took part in the program. While at the park, students partook in real life scientific research, collecting data from wildlife cameras to research five rare, small carnivore species native to the area. Along with wildlife programming, students also learned about the park’s biodiversity, famous saguaro trees, and the rich ties of the park’s history to their Tohono O’odham culture.

A Gathering of Service Women and Men

Many of our national parks commemorate our country’s military history. Some go even further, inviting our veterans to participate in programming and thanking them for their service. Throughout 2016, park staff at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, located on the Navajo Nation, welcomed local Native American veterans and offered them a safe and sacred place to rest and reflect. With support from the National Park Foundation, the veterans connected with nature, shared healthy meals, helped maintain trails, and built a stronger sense of community. The veterans went on ranger-led hikes on two new trails recently constructed by Native American youth, funded through previous years of programming.

Native Stories Written in the Stars

The wire sculpture of Native Americans on horses with the sunrise in the background at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
National Park Service

Native American culture is rich in oral histories and many parks continue that tradition through their park programming. At Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, the National Park Foundation supported the expansion of the park’s Night Sky program, inviting visitors to explore both the park’s trails and stars. In 2017, over 500 people participated in the program. While walking the trails (or snowshoeing on the trails in the winter!), visitors gazed at Native American and Euro-American constellations through telescopes and binoculars. By listening to tribal elders or scholars and park rangers, the stories of the night skies from the Sioux, Crow, and Cheyenne came to life for visitors of all backgrounds.

From culture to science to volunteerism, Native Americans are active stewards, teachers, and participants in national parks, preserving the heritage and history that make this land so remarkable. Programs like these ones ensure that more people learn this important layer of the American experience. Next time you #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque, be sure to seek these important ties to this nation’s past.

The National Park Foundation thanks its generous partners Coca-Cola and BNSF Railway for the support of these programs

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