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Panoramic View of Washita Battlefield National Historic Site, as it looks today - Cheyenne, Oklahoma
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Enhancing Communication Between the NPS and Native Americans - Washita Battelfield National Historic Site

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site faced challenges in communicating and consulting with Native American tribes. Through shared leadership and vision, the park and its partners have developed mechanisms for the Cheyenne to have their own voice in park planning, development, and interpretation.

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site, located in western Oklahoma, was established on November 12, 1996, to interpret the attack of Lt. Col. George Custer and the 7th Cavalry on Black Kettle's sleeping Cheyenne village in 1868. The word "Battlefield" as part of the name for the park may be debatable, because the park interprets an unprovoked attack on one of the greatest peace chiefs of the Cheyenne tribe. The Cheyenne people have certainly never agreed with the park's nomenclature, and it became a strong point of contention when the NPS convened discussions, negotiations, and collaboration to develop the story of this important time of American history.

Cheyenne prisoners from Washita at Fort Hays, Kansas, 1869. (Historic photo)Cheyenne prisoners from Washita at Fort Hays, Kansas, 1869. Fifty-three women and children were held as captives until the late spring of 1869. They were used as a bargaining chip to gain the release of white women held by other bands of Cheyenne. (Historic photo)

It is easy to tell the story of Washita in a one-sided fashion. In developing the park's interpretive media, park staff made every effort to tell a balanced story of the Southern Plains Indian Wars and of the bloody atrocities that were being committed by both the American military and the Plains tribes that led up to the Washita attack. They also made every effort to engage the Native Americans that are affiliated with this site in the park's planning and development.

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