Chief Stan Grier, Chief of the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy and Chairman Brandon Sazue of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – Years before Charlottesville and the push to remove Confederate monuments, Tribal Nations began petitioning for the names of a war criminal responsible for an act of genocide, and a white supremacist who advocated for such, to be changed in Yellowstone National Park. On Saturday, September 16, leaders from the Blackfoot Confederacy and Great Sioux Nation will be among those to continue that appeal, gathering at Yellowstone’s gateway in Gardiner, Montana.
“America’s first national park should no longer have features named after the proponents and exponents of genocide, as is the case with Hayden Valley and Mount Doane,” the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, which represents every tribe in Montana and Wyoming, declared in a December 2014 resolution that implored federal authorities to change the names. Three years later, the National Park Service and US Geological Service remain unmoved.
Lt. Gustavus Cheyney Doane
Lieutenant Gustavus Cheyney Doane, 2nd Cavalry, is celebrated as “the man who discovered Wonderland” for guiding the 1870 expedition that was instrumental in Yellowstone becoming the world’s first national park. However, seven months prior to that, on January 23, 1870, Doane led the massacre of the Piikani (Piegan) camped with Chief Heavy Runner on the Marias River.
“I was the first and last man in [the] Piegan camp January 23, 1870,” Doane wrote in his 1889 application to become superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. “Greatest slaughter of Indians ever made by U.S. Troops,” he continued. Of the 173 recorded victims, authorities admitted that only 15 were men of fighting age, the rest were elders, women and children, “none older than twelve years and many of them in their mother’s arms,” reported Indian Agent W.A. Pease. Doane subsequently ordered several of the Piikani prisoners to be executed with axes.
“Even after the passage of twenty-one years, Doane spoke of the massacre without shame or remorse,” explains Paul R. Wylie, author of the critically-acclaimed Blood on the Marias which details the heinous slaughter of the Piikani. “Clearly, Gustavus Cheney Doane was not worthy of having a mountain named for him, then or now, and I support the effort to have the Mount Doane name changed,” says Mr. Wylie.
“This September will mark the 147th Anniversary of the Washburn-Doane Expedition and the mythology of Yellowstone and its origin which has obscured not just an inconvenient, but an atrocious truth,” adds Chief Stan Grier, Chief of the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy.
Where Doane participated in genocide, Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden advocated it.
“Unless they are localized and made to enter upon agricultural and pastoral pursuits they must ultimately be exterminated,” Hayden wrote of tribal peoples in his US Geological Survey of Wyoming, published by the government in 1872. Based on Hayden’s report from his 1871 Yellowstone Expedition, Congress passed and President Grant signed into law, the Act that established Yellowstone National Park. “If extermination is the result of non-compliance, then compulsion is an act of mercy,” Hayden rationalized his advocacy for genocide.
“The lower race” is how Hayden categorized tribal people. “Equally incontestable is the pre-eminence, both intellectual and moral, of the white race, which thus forms a natural aristocracy in the truest sense of the word,” Hayden concluded in his 1883 book, North America.
Eighteen-years after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Hayden defended slave-holding Confederate plantation owners as “chivalrous and hospitable,” and insisted, “The treatment of the negro was not barbarous, and many seemingly cruel laws were greatly needed as measures of self-protection on the part of the whites.”
“After Charlottesville, President Trump complained, ‘They’re trying to take away our culture. They’re trying to take away our history.’ No, we’re not, that would be too easy. We want Trump and anybody else who thinks like that to own it. What does it say about somebody who wants Yellowstone National Park to continue celebrating war criminals and white supremacists in its continuing ‘white wash’ of history?” asks Chairman Brandon Sazue of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe.
So far, Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk’s only response to the tribal appeal is a May 2015 letter in which he suggested Tribal Nations “submit the name change request” to the Board of Geographic Names. “An individual may do so online or by mail,” Wenk wrote.
“Over three million visitors a year now stand awed by the beauty of that valley and the power of the buffalo and grizzly, just as our peoples did for thousands of years before. Moral conscience, integrity and justice demand that Yellowstone’s administration join the movement to change these names. On September 16, we will call upon the US Department of the Interior to initiate the process of changing the name of Hayden Valley to Buffalo Nations Valley, in honor of all Tribal Nations that have treaty rights to Greater Yellowstone, and an ancestral connection to this sacred landscape and our relatives, the Buffalo Nation,” state Chairman Sazue and Chief Grier in a joint statement.