ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – The National Park Service has partnered with a tourism association to ensure that Native American contributions, cultures and traditions are incorporated into exhibits and programming at sites across the country.
The park service says it highlights the history of Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Hawaiians throughout the year. The five-year deal with the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association will expand opportunities, officials said.
Sherry Rupert, executive director of the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based tourism association, said previous partnerships at individual park sites had raised awareness among neighboring tribes.
She pointed to the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, which stretches 1,200 miles from Nogales, Arizona, to northern California. A guide shows tribal attractions on or near the trail, and a map translates the locations into native languages.
A similar project is underway on the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, which runs 4,900 miles through 16 U.S. states, from Pennsylvania to Oregon, Rupert said.
“Native American tribes have ancestral ties to public lands that predate the formation of the National Park Service by several millennia,” Rupert said in a press release Wednesday. “These very unique perspectives can serve as the basis for unique cultural content for National Park Service sites.”
In Arizona, 11 tribes associated with the Grand Canyon have partnered with the Parks Service to create an intertribal cultural heritage site in a historic national park watchtower.
The park service said visitors increasingly want more authentic experiences and opportunities to engage with tribal communities and support indigenous-owned businesses. The tourism association will organize virtual and in-person forums for the park service to hear from the tribes.
Deputy Parks Department Director Shawn Benge said the tourism association’s past work demonstrates its understanding of the historical connections between tribes and park sites.
The agency oversees more than 131,000 square miles (339,288 square kilometers) of parks, monuments, battlefields and other landmarks. It employs around 20,000 people in permanent, temporary and seasonal jobs, according to its website.
President Joe Biden has appointed Charles F. “Chuck” Sams III to head the parks service. If confirmed by the Senate, Sams would be the first Native American to hold the position. He is Cayuse and Walla Walla and a citizen of the Confederate Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon.
Tierna Unruh-Enos is Editor-in-Chief and Associate Editor of The Paper.