The Home of the Bison - Tribal Perspectives on the Park

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Every year busloads of children come from school districts on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations to tour Wind Cave, and many other Lakotas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos join the regularly scheduled tours as individuals and families. At some level, they must experience a certain degree of dissonance between what they hear and see in official park interpretive programming and what they've been taught in their schools, by their elders and spiritual leaders. Many Lakotas we have spoken with are chagrined that the park gives only passing notice to the history of their presence in the area, much less any indication of its importance in their cultural traditions. (pp. 646-650).

The park is part of a public commons with responsibilities to all of its visitors including peoples with a very different understanding and sense of entitlement to the park and its properties. The Lakotas and Cheyennes have deep historical associations with this place, and they have compelling stories about its origins and meaning. They also possess incredibly rich bodies knowledge about the area's plants, animals, minerals, soils, and waters. Most of the tribal cultural resource people we spoke with indicated that some of this knowledge could be shared, and they approved efforts to create programming that would give the public a better understanding of the importance of this place in their lives. Yet, at the same time, most of them argued that a tribal input and perspective is imperative for this kind of programming (pp.647-648).

There are many opportunities here for the park to work with local educational institutions to create informative learning experiences for the public who visit the park. For example, there is a collaborative research project between the American Indian Studies and Biology programs at Black Hills State University to learn more about tribal relationships to the flora of the Black Hills. Jace Decory, Mark Gabel, and Charlie Lamb, three of the people involved in this program, might be contacted to create internships for Lakota students to work on interpretive materials for the park that could be posted along trails or displayed in the park's visitor center. Highly respected tribal educators in Lakota Language and Culture Studies programs, such as Albert White Hat and Victor Douville at Sinte Gleska Tribal University and Karen Lone Hill of Oglala Tribal University, might be consulted on how to best approach and build collaborative interpretive efforts.

However tribal input and perspectives are acquired, they should not be sequestered and treated as if they exist outside the park's "authorized" programming (pp. 647-648). All tribal history needs to be included at every stage in the chronology of the park from early historic times to the present. Tribal natural history perspectives need to be treated respectfully along side Western approaches. They need to be seen as vital and informative worldviews, not as relics of some bygone era or as frivolous legends. Also, we recommend that greater attention needs to be paid to the fact that local tribes knew of the cave before European Americans arrived. We may not know the exact date it was first discovered, but we can presume its discovery preceded the coming of European Americans by many decades if not centuries. Judging by the history the Poncas recorded in the early twentieth century, knowledge of the cave extends back to at least the early decades of the eighteenth century. Earlier dates might be determined from archaeological remains near the cave's opening, but unfortunately, most of these were destroyed when the elevator was built.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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