The Home of the Bison - Consultations and Further Study

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Consulting work with tribes on sacred sites, traditional cultural properties, or any other issue of mutual interest will not be easy. The Black Hills, including the area of Wind Cave National Park, remain part of a long political struggle over who has legitimate ownership of these lands, and who has the right to steward them and define their cultural meaning. Since these lands are not likely to be relinquished to the Sioux Nation or any other interested tribal group in the near or foreseeable future, they will continue to be a sites of contestation.

In whatever consultation it pursues, the park service is bound by federal directives to work with tribes on a government-to-government basis (Executive Order 13084). This means consultations must be arranged and worked out with the standing governments of the tribes that have a cultural interest in the park. Initially, this might entail individual in-person meetings between park staff and the culture resource offices of the 10 tribes with the most significant ongoing and vested cultural, historical, and legal interests in the area. These meetings might address areas of mutual policy interest with respect to: 1) identifying sites and resources; 2) defining patterns of access; 3) discussing the inclusion of tribal perspectives in park interpretive programming; and 4) determining the most appropriate mechanisms for seeking input and soliciting advice on matters of mutual interest. It is absolutely imperative that these meetings take place directly with park service personnel, the people who are empowered to make management decisions on the protection of sites and properties and the nature of tribal access to them. Hiring temporary consultants to do this sort of work will have little influence or effect because these people do not have the authority to act upon or accommodate tribal interests vis á vis the park. In fact, some tribal offices were reluctant to speak with us because we were not NPS staff.

WCNP might also want to consider the possibility of developing separate advisory boards for each tribal nation, the Lakotas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos (pp. 632, 651-652). These boards might include tribal government officers who represent each tribe's cultural resource interests, knowledgeable tribal elders, spiritual leaders, and educators who teach tribal language and culture curriculums in secondary and higher educational institutions. In the case of the Lakotas, this would entail a fairly large group of 20 to 30 people, but it could be smaller if those who serve on the board represent people with demonstrated knowledge of the park, its uses, and history. Advisory boards of this order are invaluable in offering useful advice around management policies, site identification, access issues, and further consultation. They can also minimize accusations of favoritism and bias. However, if boards of this kind are developed, their input needs to be taken seriously and acted on in concrete and visible ways. The regional district office of the U.S. Forest Service in Custer, SD has already initiated this kind of process and is presently formalizing an official agreement with local tribes for consulting purposes.

In securing advice from tribes on matters of traditional cultural property identification, protection, and access, a few things need to take place at the outset. First of all, park staff and tribal advisors need to reach some agreement on the culturally proper ways to acquire, handle, and protect highly sensitive information about sites and other traditional cultural properties on park lands. Executive Order 13007 contains a very important provision, under Section 1. Part (a) it reads: "Where appropriate, agencies shall maintain the confidentiality of a site." Consensus also needs to be reached on who can represent tribal interests beyond the offices of tribal government, and on the culturally appropriate mechanisms for contacting spiritual leaders, educators, and other knowledgeable people for further, more in depth and/or on-site consultations regarding any of a variety of matters relating to sacred sites, traditional cultural properties, and the conduct of religious observances. Mutually agreeable policies need to be developed around the protocol of consultation before the park or its representatives can move forward to inquire about more specific and sensitive concerns.

In making these recommendations, we are mindful of the fact that existing park service personnel are already overworked and overburdened with responsibilities and have little back-ground experience, time, much less funding, to devote to these kinds of efforts. The park service might consider retaining staff entrusted with the responsibility of building and maintaining consulting relations with interested tribes. This is especially important at NPS properties, such as Wind Cave, the Badlands, and Devil's Tower, where there are many culturally sensitive issues that need to be addressed on an on-going basis. Currently, there is no end to the misunder-standings, suspicions, and resentments that have built up around the Park Service, especially in light of recent events at the Stronghold in Badlands National Park. While it might not be practical to hire someone for each site, it might be possible to create a liaison position that oversees this work in relation to a group of park properties, especially when these involve consultations with many of the same tribes. Although each park certainly has its own special management needs and issues, there are many areas of overlap including acceptable protocol for handling privileged information and the identification of culturally appropriate and know-ledgeable tribal consultants. It needs to be emphasized, however, that some of this varies from one tribal nation (for example, Lakota as opposed to Cheyenne) to another, and as a result, it may be necessary to develop different protocols on a tribe-by-tribe basis.

There is clearly a need for more on-going research on the history of the park and its cultural uses from the perspectives of local American Indian and European American communities. More oral history on the recollections of people whose forbearers lived on park lands for extended periods, camped and crossed park properties temporarily on a seasonal basis, or who visited the area for various kinds of resource procurement or religious observance would greatly add to our knowledge of the area and give it a fuller texture and greater chronological depth. In regards to tribal historical relationships to the area, the most fruitful efforts will involve collaborations with tribal educational institutions. Developing joint research projects and/or offering students internships could provide meaningful alliances with direct benefit to tribes and the park.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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