I could see the ranger’s sigh in the air, a cloud of disappointment hanging in the freezing yellowstone morning. My girlfriend and I had asked Kelly, the only ranger at the socially remote information booth, where I could learn more about the Native Americans who originally inhabited the park.
“We really don’t have any exposure,” Kelly said. “It’s quite embarrassing.”
Like many people who ventured into US national parks during the pandemic, we left the trip with fond memories and jaw-dropping pictures. But there was also a bitter aftertaste of knowing that the indigenous people had been completely whitewashed in the country’s oldest national park.
Despite all its flaws, the United States is a breathtaking country. But if we want to enjoy these sacred landscapes, we have a duty to tell their whole story, not just the parts we want to hear.
In 1877, the Nez Perce tribe fled the US military on a trail through Yellowstone. The group were frightened and starved, and were eventually captured near the Canadian border. Witnesses describe their capture as a “battle”, but as we know the term “slaughter” is a better word for what happened.
Yet this story is not told to the thousands of people who frequent Yellowstone to learn the history of the park. Of course, this problem extends beyond national parks; history textbooks, for example, often only devote a chapter or two to America’s thousands of years of pre-colonial history.
But, as a federal agency, the National Parks Service is well positioned to take the lead on this issue.
President Biden recently recognized Columbus Day – which has been designated a federal holiday since 1968 – as Indigenous Peoples Day, becoming the first sitting president to issue this historic correction.
It would be easy for Biden to take a step forward in these gestures by pushing for national parks to teach Native American history, but to be frank about our transgressions against Indigenous peoples makes no sense if we don’t address the issues. contemporary impacts.
Today, Indigenous peoples are subject to widespread systemic racism. Their schools are underfunded, their medical care is insufficient, and unemployment in reservations is nearly double the national average.
The United States owes much more to the indigenous peoples whose lands it stole and built. And if it is not enough to refuse to be silent about historical misdeeds, education through National Parks is a good first step.
Joe Mayall is a journalist who writes on politics, entertainment and the democratized economy. This column was produced for The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.