The Home of the Bison - Executive Summary


When Wind Cave National Park celebrated its Fiftieth Anniversary in 1953, a Lakota delegation from the Pine Ridge Reservation was invited to attend the festivities. As a way of honoring the event, the Lakotas adopted the park's superintendent, Earl M. Semingsen and named him Tatanka Tokahe [First Bison Bull]. Two things are significant about this name. On the one hand, it associates the park with bison, a culturally important connection for the Lakotas, who have long believed that Wind Cave is the home of the Pte Oyate or Buffalo Nation; and on the other, it refers to the name of the first human to emerge from the subterranean depths of the Black Hills through the portal that many Lakotas identify as Wind Cave. Much of the landscape of Wind Cave National Park, both above and below ground, is sacred to the Lakotas because it is a site of genesis and because it holds important teachings at the foundation of the way Lakotas have come to identify themselves as a people. The same holds true for the Cheyennes who hold the geological depression known as the Race Track in high regard and associate it with important cosmological precepts and the origins of their Sun Dance. The Lakotas identify the Race Track with an important spiritual pilgrimage their ancestors followed and that some have tried to recreate in modern times. In the traditions of both tribal nations, the story of the Great Race tells how the nature of relationships between humans and animals was established and how various topographic features of the Black Hills came into being.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Wind Cave National Park (hereafter referred to as WCNP) is one of the most sacred and culturally significant areas of the Black Hills to the Lakotas and Cheyennes. It is also a location associated with a complex and changing history of human occupancy, which extends back to prehistoric times.In the historic era, roughly 1742 to 1877, the Lakotas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos were among many tribal nations who lived and traveled within reach of WCNP. For a brief period of time, circa-1880 to 1930, it was home to a small group of European American homesteaders. The history of the lands on which WCNP now sits form a diverse and deeply layered cultural tapestry. The ways in which its diverse populations adapted to the park's lands and assigned unique cultural meanings to them offer rich narratives. At least above ground, the park has never been a pristine terrain, but an area where the imprint of human activity is visibly marked on its landscape. Indeed, some of the most provocative interpretive questions about the park are not how it has existed as an isolated island of nature, but rather how its lands and resources have dynamically changed in the course of a history with diverse waves of human occupation.

In this executive summary, only some aspects of the park's culture history are highlighted. Specifically, attention is given to features of the park that can be identified as traditional cultural properties. A traditional cultural property represents a significant feature of the lived-in cultural practices and beliefs of an extant community, "rooted in that community's history," and necessary to its survivance, identity, and well-being as a living community (Parker and King 1990). Wind Cave National Park contains many different landforms, landscapes, animals, plants, waters, soils, and minerals that meet this definition for contemporary tribes who are members of the Lakota and Cheyenne nations and very likely, the Arapaho nation too.

Sections within this unit:

I. Current and Historic Cultural Affiliations to Wind Cave National Park

II- The Cultural Foundations of Tribal Affiliations to WCNP

III-The Character of Contemporary Cultural Affiliations to WCNP

A. Landscapes and Landforms: Issues of Protection and Access

B. Resources and Their Protection

Resources and Their Protection - Animals

Resources and Their Protection - Plants

Resources and Their Protection - Minerals

C. Tribal Perspectives on the Park

D. Consultations and Further Study

III-Beginning a New Cycle

Please note with in this section there are page numbers listed these and all future numbers refer to pages in the body of the text where further information and details are provided. In Part One of this report, there is a summary of historical material for different eras at the end of each chapter. Also, in Chapter Fifteen (pp. 587-616), there is a comprehensive review of the history of the park region from the early eighteenth century to the present.

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Last updated: April 10, 2015

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