Yellowstone’s location at the convergence of the Great Plains, Great Basin, and Plateau Indian cultures means that many Native American tribes have a traditional connection to the land and its resources. For thousands of years before the park was established, this area was a place where Indians hunted, fished, gathered plants, quarried obsidian, and used the thermal waters for religious and medicinal purposes.
Yellowstone’s “ethnographic” resources are the natural and cultural features that are significant to tribes. They include sites, plant and animal species, objects associated with routine or ceremonial activities, and migration routes. Federal law requires the National Park Service to consult with Yellowstone’s associated tribes on a government-to-government basis on decisions which affect resources that are significant to tribes.
Consultation and Associated Tribes
The first tribes to request association came forward in 1996. Now 26 tribes are formally associated with Yellowstone. Since 2002, park managers have met periodically with tribal representatives to exchange information about park projects and ethnographic resources. The tribes have requested to participate in resource management and decision-making, to conduct ceremonies and other events in the park, and to collect plants and minerals for traditional uses.
Tribes are most concerned about the management of bison that leave the park; many tribes have a physical and spiritual connection to bison in Yellowstone. Since 2007, some associated tribes have had the opportunity to conduct bison hunts outside the park boundaries. Since November 2009, the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, the InterTribal Buffalo Council, and the Nez Perce Tribe have joined the Interagency Bison Management Plan and participate in the development of adaptive management strategies for bison and Brucellosis in the areas immediately outside Yellowstone National Park.
In 2018, the park consulted with associated tribes on increasing opportunities for non-consumptive ceremonial use of the park. Consultants will also review park educational media and programming for representation of native peoples and perspectives. Previous education consultation focussed on the Yellowstone segment of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail and the associated sites and events of the 1877 Nez Perce War.
In 2016, the Executive Committee of the Blackfoot Nation contacted Yellowstone National Park to request that the names of two locations inside the park be changed. National place names are managed by the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) and the representatives were referred to the USGS Board of Geographic Names at that time.
The committee requested the park change Mount Doane to “First People’s Mountain” and that Hayden Valley be changed to “Buffalo People’s Valley.” They requested the changes to reflect an acknowledgement of Lieutenant Gustavus C. Doane’s involvement in the 1870 Marias massacre of the Piikani (Peigan) tribe, and Ferdinand V. Hayden’s insistence on the settlement or “extermination” of native people in the Yellowstone area.
Native Student Opportunities
Currently, Yellowstone hosts an internship program which places Native American students from the University of Montana into resource management and resource education jobs with the National Park Service. In addition, Yellowstone also hosts Native American youth conservation volunteers through the Montana Conservation Corps.
The list below includes academic publications, government publications, management documents that inform the decision-making process at Yellowstone. The Yellowstone Resources and Issues Handbook, updated annually, is the book our rangers use to answer many basic park questions.
Janetski, J.C. 2002. Indians of Yellowstone Park. Revised edition. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.
Keller, R., and M. Turek. 1998. American Indians and national parks. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Nabokov, P., and L. Loendorf. 2004. Restoring a presence: American Indians in Yellowstone National Park. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. (An earlier version of this book, prepared as a report for the National Park Service, was published in 2002 as American Indians and Yellowstone National Park: A Documentary Overview, Mammoth Hot Springs, WY: Yellowstone National Park.
Spence, M.D. 1999. Dispossessing the wilderness: Indian removal and the making of the national parks. New York: Oxford University Press.
Last updated: June 26, 2019