Skip to main content

Indigenous leadership in National Parks

On today's show, two Indigenous women working in leadership positions for the National Park Service. Plus reporter-producer Kolby KickingWoman tells us more about a think tank set up for tribal leaders
  • Author:
  • Publish date:

There are more than 400 national parks in the country. And before any of them became national parks, they were the homelands of Indigenous people. New superintendent of the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site Alisha Deegan is on Monday's newscast. She is a Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation citizen. Deegan is joined by Anna Deschampe, the new chief of interpretation for Grand Portage National Monument. They describe their work in the National Park Service.

And last week Cherokee Nation leaders met with U.S. Attorney General William Barr. Days after their meeting, the president tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Indian Country Today's reporter-producer Kolby KickingWoman talks about the concerns and the tribes' meeting with Barr. 

Some comments from Alisha Deegan:

"I had to do a 12 credit internship in order to get my undergrad. I initially wanted to do tourism for my tribe and I had to do this internship. And so I found the National Park Service. Gerard Baker was working at Mount Rushmore at the time. I put in through this program that was called the Step Program, which they don't have anymore. I was able to get on and did a summer season and found that I really enjoyed the National Park Service and the mission and it fit along with my values. And now it's been 16 years."

"Well at Mount Rushmore, when Gerard Baker was there, they never talked about the Native story of the black Hills. So working there and for that story being told for the first time, it was a really great experience for me. Gerard had given me the task of talking about treaties that the Presidents that are on the monument dealt with. I had a lot of people that either walked off of my talks or they would cry at the end. So it was really mixed, but I feel that it was powerful and it was needed and it is still needed to be talked about at all of the national parks sites."

"What we do have is an employee resource group that I chair is called Circle. Council for Indigenous Relevance, Communication, Leadership, and Excellence. And we try to provide just that year for the Native people that are working within the park service with respect to recruitment and retention. A lot of times you find that there'll be just one person that works at a site that is Native or Indigenous, and it can get pretty isolating. So creating this employee resource group, we thought this would be a way to reach out to what we call like the NPS tribe and really create a place that they can feel safe even when they are far away from home."

"I would say coming to Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, and working here. This was my dream park. Now I'm home. I get to live along the river and I understand why my people chose to live here for so long. It's a sad story of why they left, but to come back and live in this sacred place and teach the youth about it. It helps kind of bring that full circle around."

Anna Deschampe:

"I just started with the National Park Service in April actually. So I'm fairly new to the system here to the park service. The reason that I approached this position, I honestly viewed it as a job at Grand Portage National Monument, rather than a job for the park service. I'm a lifelong resident here in Grand Portage. I'm an enrolled band member, this is my community. I've worked in education but I've also worked for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Interpretation at Grand Portage State Park. So for me, it was a transition to a different park. And it was a really good opportunity for me to be able to work with the community and to really ensure and promote the Grand Portage Ojibwe story being told here at Grand Portage National Monument."

Scroll to Continue

Read More

"Very shortly after I started, Alisha reached out to me and she welcomed me and we talked over the phone about some ideas that we have in common and some areas that we thought would be really good to collaborate on for the benefit of the entire park service. So it's been a really busy year since April, but that has been one thing that started right away though. She got to know me, she introduced herself and that was very beneficial to me. I really appreciated it."

"I think the biggest challenge in starting this position within a pandemic is that everything that was left so well prepared for me when I started, had to change. And so, whereas if there would have been a regular year, I could have just abided by the calendar that was set up. We opened our historic site late. We still had some things to work out, but I think the benefit of that is that I've been able to really learn a lot of the processes because I've had to really go through them and understand the policies and understand the procedures so that we could treat something during this pandemic that works in the community that works for the park and works for the visitors."

"My goal within the next six months is to successfully wrap up a year that I think went really well. We have a seasonal cycle to our historic depot. So we're going to wrap that up and really start planning for the next coming year. And within six months, it's kind of hard to say what's what's going to happen, but the two things that I can really emphasize and my goals are, you know, partnership and communication. So building our partnerships with the community of Grand Portage, but also latch the national parks that have similar stories to us and then communicating these stories to the public."

Kolby KickingWoman:

"The new news this morning was that White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany tested positive. In her statement that she provided on Twitter, she says she tested negative four days in a row before this morning. As we all know with COVID-19, it's one of those things that can linger for a few days before the positive test comes back. So it should be noted that everyone wore masks during the open portion of the meeting at the Tahlequah Cherokee headquarters."

"Barr was meeting with tribal leaders. They had a round table discussion. They didn't release the topics, although during the media availability they talked about an increase in funding to hire four prosecutors that would be trained to be cross designated to prosecute cases in both tribal and federal courts. Since August in the Northern District, Trent Shore’s office has prosecuted 114 cases of people that looked to have been retried in federal tribal courts. And so it's an influx that they're working to deal with. Cherokee Principal Chief Chuck Hoskins said their Attorney General's office is keeping track on a number of cases that may need to be retried and they just need the resources in order to do that."

"At the University of Montana in Missoula is the American Indian Governance and Policy Institute. It has been in the works for a little over a year now. I talked with Heather Cahoon, who is a professor of Native American Studies and will be leading the Institute. It's not the first of its kind. There are others across the country. There's a Harvard project, one at the University of Arizona, as well as Arizona State, and a couple of other places across the country."

"Heather Cahoon, she is Salish Kootenai. She is working to build and maintain strong relationships with tribal leaders across the state. The first thing they need to do is a needs assessment to do what she said will drive their agenda for the next decade. So she hopes to get that done through the end of the year, possibly into 2021. And then from there start using the Montana State University System’s research resources and other services to help provide tribal leaders within the state data driven analysis to help them make decisions for their communities."

Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. She is also the anchor of the weekday newscast. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider.

Indian Country Today is a nonprofit news organization. Will you support our work? All of our content is free. There are no subscriptions or costs. And we have hired more Native journalists in the past year than any news organization ─ and with your help we will continue to grow and create career paths for our people. Support Indian Country Today for as little as $10.