Presenter Information

Stephanie Walrath, Department of History

Abstract

This project explores how shared authority in national parks can be reassessed through the lens of administrative repatriation. The majority of NPS interpretations focus on conservation and naturalist education, perpetuate a mythology of “gifted land,” and have neglected cultural imprints as an integral element of the land’s history. The rich histories of the peoples that have occupied these lands over time provide an opportunity for the NPS that few museums possess: to present an American history that is deeply interwoven with the natural landscape and recall events back farther than any constructed museums can possibly venture. National parks have an obligation to present historical narratives that strengthen the stories of the landscapes’ indigenous populations. This cannot be accomplished through federal interpretation alone. Rather, we must necessarily examine national parks within the public history conversation surrounding repatriation.

When national parks are established on land bearing deep indigenous footprints, they should necessarily be administered or co-administered by native representatives. Mesa Verde National Park and Glacier National Park are presented as case studies in this project to assess the racist history of park administration and how these spaces could be managed, interpreted, and docented by natives in the future. It is altogether possible – and necessary – that native peoples are at the helm of park management in spaces where native stories are (or should be) told. The continued management and interpretation by non-native federal officials represents, at least, a lack of shared authority, and at most, a continued appropriation of native legacies for recreational entertainment. As the field of public history comes to terms with repatriation not only as an ethical imperative but an opportunity for expanded interpretations, native administration of certain national parks should be at the forefront of the conversation.

School

McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Advisor

Alima Bucciantini

Submission Type

Paper

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Decolonizing National Parks: A Conversation about Repatriation and Shared Authority

This project explores how shared authority in national parks can be reassessed through the lens of administrative repatriation. The majority of NPS interpretations focus on conservation and naturalist education, perpetuate a mythology of “gifted land,” and have neglected cultural imprints as an integral element of the land’s history. The rich histories of the peoples that have occupied these lands over time provide an opportunity for the NPS that few museums possess: to present an American history that is deeply interwoven with the natural landscape and recall events back farther than any constructed museums can possibly venture. National parks have an obligation to present historical narratives that strengthen the stories of the landscapes’ indigenous populations. This cannot be accomplished through federal interpretation alone. Rather, we must necessarily examine national parks within the public history conversation surrounding repatriation.

When national parks are established on land bearing deep indigenous footprints, they should necessarily be administered or co-administered by native representatives. Mesa Verde National Park and Glacier National Park are presented as case studies in this project to assess the racist history of park administration and how these spaces could be managed, interpreted, and docented by natives in the future. It is altogether possible – and necessary – that native peoples are at the helm of park management in spaces where native stories are (or should be) told. The continued management and interpretation by non-native federal officials represents, at least, a lack of shared authority, and at most, a continued appropriation of native legacies for recreational entertainment. As the field of public history comes to terms with repatriation not only as an ethical imperative but an opportunity for expanded interpretations, native administration of certain national parks should be at the forefront of the conversation.