Before There Were Parks: Yellowstone And Glacier Through Native Eyes
Traditional Knowledge Story 110

Before There Were Parks: Yellowstone And Glacier Through Native Eyes

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John Ahni Schertow
June 11, 2011
 

For more than 12,000 years, the intermountain West’s native peoples have called the lands known as Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks “home.” This program explores modern indigenous perspectives on these great wilderness areas and explores the cultural divide that separates modern times from the not-so-distant past.

In BEFORE THERE WERE PARKS: YELLOWSTONE AND GLACIER THROUGH NATIVE EYES, narrated by Scott Momaday, more than a dozen Indigenous leaders and experts Blackfeet Reservation/Glacier from across the region offer a respectful introduction to the knowledge that tribal people here have passed down for at least the past 12,000 years. Viewers discover why Glacier and Yellowstone are so important to American Indians — for reasons far beyond their recent status as NATIONAL PARKS.

The film follows Eastern Shoshone youth and elders from Ft. Washakie, Wyoming, as they spend three days in Yellowstone as part of the park’s cultural exchange program. Vernon Finley, the Kootenai spokesperson, explains the limitations of human perception and how a respectful person might gain knowledge. Alan Pard, a Piikani traditionalist, explains what the sun, moon and stars mean to the Blackfeet people. Grant and Linda Bulltail, Crow Nation Lodgekeepers of the Tobacco Society, offer their perceptions of what Yellowstone means to the Crows. Germaine White, information specialist for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, explains the importance of place names, and Carol Murray, tribal history project director, Blackfeet Community College, describes what President Grant’s executive orders meant to the Blackfeet people.

The film reveals why, as the Northern Rockies became increasingly settled by European Americans, “Yellowstone” was probably a mistranslation of the Crow name for that river; viewers also hear how the Bannocks felt about returning home to find the Oregon Trail in their wintering grounds.

Filmed in all seasons in gorgeous high-definition cinematography, BEFORE THERE WERE PARKS carefully navigates the cultural divide that separates modern times from this not-so-distant past, as it introduces the idea of how America’s national parks remain one of the last and best ties to an ancient indigenous past.

From an indigenous perspective, a person can never own land, but it is always a person’s responsibility to care for land and to protect it for future generations. From far different places, the goals of the Park Service and that of Native Americans meet in America’s national parks. In BEFORE THERE WERE PARKS, viewers discover the beginning of that complex and ongoing story.

If you would like to buy this documentary, visit: http://shop.montanapbs.org/before-there-were-parks-extended-28min-version.html

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