February 26, 2010

Before There Were Parks

I recently watched this half-hour documentary, which aired on my local PBS station February 1.

Before There Were Parks:  Yellowstone and Glacier Through Native EyesFor more than 12,000 years, the intermountain West's native peoples have called the lands known as Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks "home." This program explores modern indigenous perspectives on these great wilderness areas and explores both the cultural divide that separates modern times from the not-so-distant past and recent efforts by the National Park Service and native peoples to bring these disparate visions into greater harmony.

An Indigenous Perspective

From time immemorial the lands we now call Yellowstone and Glacier have been regarded by Native Americans as significant and sacred. Today nearly 30 tribal nations maintain official ties to these National Parks, and on-going Native involvement in these areas is considered necessary to the long-term health of America's endangered indigenous cultures by many tribal leaders.

In this unique film, more than a dozen of these leaders and experts from all across the region offer a respectful introduction to the knowledge that tribal people have passed down here for at least the past 12,000 years. Viewers will discover why Glacier and Yellowstone are so important to American Indians--for reasons far beyond their recent status as National Parks.
Comment:  The phrase "respectful introduction" is accurate. The speakers don't delve deeply into their tribal cultures or the parks' history. And they skirt anything too negative or controversial. The result is a feel-good film about the Indians' spiritual connection to the land.

I can't tell for sure, but everyone who speaks in the program may have been an Indian. If that isn't a first, it's probably pretty rare. On the other hand, having ordinary folks speak isn't always the best way to go. A good writer can craft a narration that works better than your average speaker.

I wouldn't suggest watching Before There Were Parks instead of The Scripture of Nature and The Empire of Grandeur. These two episodes of Ken Burns's National Parks dealt with Yellowstone and Glacier in more depth. But Before There Were Parks is a decent supplement to them.

For more on the subject, see Native America Speaks at Glacier and Native Documentaries and News.

Below:  "St. Mary's Lake is one of the sources of the Blackfeet's sacred Beaver Bundle."

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