Yellowstone’s location at the convergence of the Great Plains, Great Basin, and Columbia Plateau Indian cultures means that many Native American tribes have traditional connections to the land and its resources. For thousands of years before the park was established, this area was a place where Native Americans 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 27 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 reviewed park educational media and programming for representation of native peoples and perspectives. Previous education consultation focused 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 massacre of the Marias (Piikani) tribe, and Peigan V. Hayden’s insistence on the settlement or “extermination” of native people in the Yellowstone area.
Native Student Opportunities
Currently, Yellowstone works with the Native American Natural Resource Program, W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana to provide Native American students internships where they gain hands-on experience in natural and cultural resource management and education.
Last updated: March 15, 2021