The following is an open letter to the new Secretary of the Interior.
Congratulations on your appointment to a cabinet position in the Obama Administration. The nation looks forward to learning what policy ideas you bring with you to the department and what will result from the excitement for change being displayed by the new administration.
As the department experiences change in administration and policy, it is an appropriate time for input from around the United States which might spark new programs and initiatives in Washington. It is in that spirit of progress that I would suggest you consider a new program to enable two groups within the Department of Interior to work more closely together for the economic, cultural and environmental benefit of Indian country.
A cooperative effort between the National Parks Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and interested tribal governments could result in a new Native National Park System. The Native National Park System could create a new economic driver for Indian country while giving tribes the resources to more effectively protect sensitive lands, historically and culturally relevant artifacts, and more effectively share their story with non-native visitors. The traditional National Parks System could benefit by dramatically increasing the options available to its customers and better meeting its mandate to protect historically significant places and things.
As always, the success of such a program depends greatly on the details of how it would be implemented. First, it is important that the initial process in creating a Native National Park be left with the tribal government which controls the area where the park would be located. Tribes should have access to existing resources within the department to determine the feasibility of such a project and assist with economic projections including how many jobs might be created, how many visitors might come, and the environmental impacts of creating such a park.
Second, jobs created within the park should be filled by tribal members living in the area to the fullest extent possible. The job training and experience gained by working with visitors to the park could be very valuable to many tribal members as our nation’s economy continues to become more and more service-based. Having Native National Parks staffed by tribal members could also give the park a much more vibrant and “real” feeling for visitors.
Third, the design and concept of each Native National Park should be greatly influenced by local tribal input. In some parts of the country, tribes may want to re-establish and share traditional forest and plant life, some tribes may want to emphasize wildlife, and other tribes might want to emphasize historical or cultural places.
The National Parks Service has long benefited from the Native cultures of the United States. The stories visitors hear about Indians as they view bison in Yellowstone National Park or legends about Native people who inhabited the cliffs in Mesa Verde National Park provide the color to an otherwise black and white picture.
The National Parks Service seems to both acknowledge and ignore the impact that Native culture plays in the popularity of its sites. The service uses an arrowhead for its logo design, but instead of saying it references rich native traditions, it explains the arrowhead as a symbol of archaeology. Within the arrowhead on the logo is a bison, which, without the innovative and rich traditions associated with the bison’s relationship with plains tribes, the animal loses almost all promotional cache.
A Native National Parks System would enable the traditional National Parks Service to more fully embrace the cultural and historical significance of Indians. The new system would also allow tribes to take advantage of the marketing and expertise the Department of the Interior has in attracting visitors to beautiful yet remote parts of the country. The Native National Park System would enable you, as the new Secretary, to assist tribal governments in achieving the highest and best use of their trust land while allowing the National Parks Service to broaden its scope and assist with protecting national treasures that might otherwise be forgotten. A Native National Parks System would be an achievement all Americans could be proud of.
The Harvest Initiative, Inc.
Ft. Thompson, S.D.