Tribes present petition story

Liz Kearney
Yellowstone Newspapers

Chief Stan Grier of the Piikani Nation, center, Blackfoot Horn Society Spiritual Leader Jim Swag, to his right, and Councilman Lee Juan Tyler of the Shoshone Bannock Tribes of Idaho, to his left, present a petition to Pat Kenney, the deputy superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, Saturday, Sept. 16.

Photo by Nate Howard, Yellowstone Newspapers




Representatives of seven Indian tribes gathered in Gardiner Saturday, Sept. 16, to present a petition to National Park Service managers asking for a change of place names associated with white supremacy in one case and the massacre of native Americans in another. 

The event, moved from Arch Park to the Gardiner Community Center due to cold and rainy weather, was attended by both local Gardiner residents, National Park Service staff, and many members of tribes with millenniums-long connections to what Chief Stan Grier of the Piikani Nation, also known as the Piegan, said was the “sacred area now called Yellowstone.”

The Sept. 16 program, led by Grier, included speakers, native song and drumming, and the signing of the table-top-sized petition. 

Tribes used the Yellowstone area for thousands of years, Grier said. 

When Yellowstone National Park became the world’s first national park in 1872, early park leaders, including the first superintendent, Philetus Norris, were eager to spread the myth that Indians avoided the area because of the “evil spirits” supposedly present around hot springs and geysers. 

But Obsidian Cliff, south of Mammoth, was a well-known and well-used source for obsidian, used in arrowheads and other tools. It was traded across the continent, and samples of it have been found as far away as Ohio. 

And at least one tribe had a name for a geyser, possibly Old Faithful — “Where The Breath Comes Out of the Ground,” Councilman Lee Juan Tyler of the Shoshone Bannock Tribes of Idaho said. The last tribe in residence in the park, the Sheepeaters, was a branch of the Shoshone-Bannock, who were forced to a reservation in Fort Hall, Idaho. 

The tribes request Mount Doane be renamed because of the genocidal activities of its namesake, Gustavus C. Doane. Doane was a military leader who led — proudly, according to his own words written some years later — the Marias River Massacre in January of 1870. His troops slaughtered 173 men, women and children camped along the river in central Montana. Only 15 of the 173 people were men old enough to engage in battle, Grier said. 

A descendant of the massacred, Blackfeet Councilman Tim Davis, also known as Running Weasel, attended the Sept. 16 gathering. 

“You are still killing us with these names,” Chairman Brandon Sazue, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe of the Great Sioux Nation, said Sept. 16.

The tribes propose renaming Mount Doane, which is a nearly inaccessible peak in the Absaroka Range inside the park, “First Peoples Mountain.” 

The other place name they want to see changed is Hayden Valley, the scenic valley along the Yellowstone River between Canyon Village and Fishing Bridge, named for Ferdinand V. Hayden. Hayden’s written work includes references to the superiority of the white race over Indians and blacks. The suggested name change is “Buffalo Nations Valley.” 

Other speakers suggested creating a partnership with the NPS in which Native Americans could be employed to provide interpretive information about tribes both today and how they have used the Yellowstone area for thousands of years. 

After the signing ceremony, the group moved outdoors to the park boundary near the Roosevelt Arch to present the signed petition to park officials. 

Assistant Superintendent Patrick Kenney accepted the petition.

“Welcome to Yellowstone,” Kenney said, adding that he understood and appreciated the tribes’ request, and he looked forward to further conversation. 

“We’re here to listen,” he said. 

The ultimate decision to change a place name lies with the United States Geological Survey. Offensive place names can be changed. For example, a small pond near Yellowstone Lake formerly called “Squaw Lake” was changed to “Indian Pond” in the recent past. 



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