The languages of Native Americans on both sides of the border are also nearly identical. Canadians and Americans watch the same TV shows and eat very similar foods. We are far more alike than different, yet there still exists the straight-line swath of clear-cut along the 49th parallel, the international border. Customs stations on the roads remind us that sovereignty is still an issue. Political systems, both tribal and neo-European, are somewhat different. We have different views on international relations, and our currency is similar but valued differently. Today, tolerance and respect regarding these slight differences is a given.
The Peace Park
The legislation was only a recognition of the obvious. Along the “backbone of the world” as the Blackfeet called the great divide, the relationships between north and south were always stronger than east-west. To the Bloods, North and South Piegans, the Kootenai, Salish and Plains Cree, the “border’ was irrelevant. To the wolves, grizzlies, Clark’s nutcrackers, fungal mycelia and thousands of other species it is still a figment of the human imagination. Hypothesize then, its lack of relevance to the fossilized algal mounds, the mammoth slab of rock called the Lewis Overthrust, the mountain-sized glaciers which carved mountain-sized rocks, or the great herds of mastodons and wooly rhinos -- which mark eons and epochs instead of years.
In this larger context, the existence of the "Peace Park" is a statement about human stewardship and cooperation within the relatively intact ecosystem we call the Crown of the Continent. To most everyone, it is one place.
Even during the early white history of the parks, the first rangers routinely circumnavigated the entire area on snowshoes, visiting their counterparts on the other side of the border and Native American friends on the way. “Kootenai” Brown, Waterton’s first ranger-warden and “Death-on-the-Trail” Reynolds, his counterpart at Goat Haunt on the American side, were the first to hatch the idea of a “Peace Park”.
The idea of a "Peace Park" reflected these first warden-rangers’ intimacy with the natural processes and ancient history of human life here. They lived with the internationally shared climate, geology, animals and plants, and the recognition of those connections was obvious to them.
In fact, the two parks were functioning as a unit, long before the political designations. In their entire histories, Waterton and Glacier have coordinated such things as predator policy, bear management, fire policies, back country use, scientific findings – even the telling of the parks’ stories through interpretation.
Joint projects between the two National Parks include: population studies using grizzly bear DNA from hair samples, bull trout genetic variability, archeological indexing, and the influence of exotic plants. Park employees work with the implicit assumption that no project is done in isolation.
Work is ongoing to expand cooperative efforts. A few examples are: the elimination of the clear-cut border swath through the park, resumption of longer-term staff exchanges, standardization of management policies, solving revenue division problems and exploring a possible joint entry permit, joint funding proposals, joint interpretation and education projects, and expanding the roles of Native Americans in staffing and interpretation of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
Two Parks as One Park
Clearly, the International Peace Park designation goes beyond symbolism to practical, everyday actions and considerations. This is “peace” in action.
Peace and Place
Just as cultural and biological connections north to south are there for the observing, connections between the remote areas of the divide and the peopled valleys are just as intricate and powerful. Bear management policies in the Peace Park affect the real estate developer in the valleys below. The reverse (bear – human conflict in newly developed areas) is often displayed in valley newspapers.
The concept of a "Peace Park" has expanded the definition of “peace”. The Rotarians envisioned a tangible statement of peace between nations. But in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (W-GIPP), humans are at peace with an intact ecosystem, and visitors find peace and solitude in the far reaches of the continental divide. There is an instinctive peace we humans feel when we understand our connections, our oneness, with the place where we live. Perhaps there is no peace like the kind we feel when we know we belong somewhere. This is the kind of peace we want to help you provide to your students.
Last updated: February 24, 2015