The Deep and Long-Awaited Indigenous Return to Yellowstone | Columnists



CROW AGENCY — Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, celebrates its 150th anniversary this year and it is under enormous and unprecedented pressure.

The park is grappling with a rapidly warming climate, a dramatic increase in visitor numbers and threats to its most prized wildlife, including bison, grizzly bears and wolves. Yet, amid worry and uncertainty, Indigenous people are making their profound and long-awaited comeback in an ever-changing landscape.

This summer, for the first time in its history, Yellowstone will host an Aboriginal teepee village near the town of Gardiner and an Aboriginal interpretive center at the Old Faithful Visitors Center, both part of a series of public art installations known as Yellowstone Revealed.

Although native people were dispossessed and officially expelled from Yellowstone in 1872, 27 tribes maintain a deep historical connection to the place that dates back more than 12,600 years. This is evidenced by the oldest known burial in the Western Hemisphere, which occurred at the Anzick Clovis site, approximately 90 miles from the park entrance near Gardiner.

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As an Indigenous person with deep family roots in the area, I was part of a search party that discovered the Clovis boy was one of my former relatives. In him, I see the unbroken circle of love and wisdom that connects today’s Aboriginal people to our ancestors and to the landscapes we call home.

I helped coordinate the reburial and repatriation of the former boy, near the exact site where he was disturbed in 1968. This reburial ceremony was attended by tribal representatives from across the Yellowstone area, and the gathering would have seemed familiar to the first family. ; close relatives and loved ones from the community come together to pay respect, reflect and comfort each other.

The natives who attended the ceremony that day came full circle to the sacred and magical region of Yellowstone.

The historical significance of the discovery of the first family cannot be underestimated, and they remain the only family on the continent to be directly associated with Clovis artifacts. Ancient remains of the family’s descendants have been found throughout the Yellowstone region, primarily around Yellowstone Lake and the Yellowstone River. Around 2012, the effects of climate change began to reveal new opportunities to study the presence of the first family in the high country along the eastern boundary of the park.

In a distinct section of the Yellowstone ecosystem, the Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness begins to reveal an amazing cultural history as the region’s hundreds of semi-permanent ice patches, varying in size and age, start to melt.

As the ice sheets shrink due to the continued and unprecedented rise in temperatures, long-submerged artifacts of Indigenous people who seasonally lived 10,000 feet above sea level are surfacing. Some of the ice patches on the Beartooth Plateau are over 10,000 years old, and evidence indicates that descendants of the first family enjoyed great success hunting big game and spending their summers in high-altitude areas above above the tree line.

Personally, my experience as a research scientist of ancient history in the Yellowstone area has been a blessing and an inspiration. Yellowstone is at the forefront of an American story, and its origin story remains incomplete without Native voices.

And looking to the future, as a member of the Indigenous contingent working on the Yellowstone Tipi Village for this year’s 150th anniversary commemoration and planning far into the future, I am grateful and optimistic about this new partnership. between the park and the indigenous peoples who have called it their home since time immemorial.

Representatives of these tribes connect the past to the present as we look to a future where indigenous voices will once again be part of this revered landscape.

Dr. Shane Doyle, Apsáalooke, is an educational and cultural consultant from Crow Agency, Montana. Learn more about the Yellowstone Revealed project at


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