Warming Peril:  Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park sits on the traditional land of the Amskapi Piikuni; Kootenai; Pend d’Oreille; Selis; Qlispe; and Blackfoot Nation (Niitsitpiis-stahkoii).


It is thought that Glacier National Park’s land was inhabited for the last 8000 years, initially by a variety of Native tribes, but in more recent history, mainly occupied by the Blackfeet. The Blackfeet Nation controlled the prairies on the east side of Glacier, while the Salish, Pend d’Oreille, and Kootnei lived in the more forested west side. Members of the Blackfeet Nation raised teepees along the shore of St. Mary’s Lake, as depicted in the upper central right area of the painting. Glacier was simply spoken of as “Glacier is the Blackfeet” in 1914, and Blackfoot People used the park for hunting, fishing, gathering of plants, and the sacred ceremony of the vision quest. Blackfeet ceremonies included the Skinwalker, depicted below the St. Mary’s Lake image in the painting.


The area of Glacier National Park was visited by European explorers as early as the 1780s. In the 19th c. George Grinnell spread the word of the natural wonders of the area in the publication, Forest and Stream, and by 1910, Glacier National Park was designated. The first naturalist there was Goerge ‘Doc’ Ruhle, depicted on horseback in 1932, and the Going to the Sun Road (also in the painting) was completed in 1932. This was the first road to specially accommodate automobile tourism.


Famous for its many glaciers, sadly, Glacier National Park has suffered greatly from climate change. Of the original 150 glaciers, only 25 still exist, and by 2030, all are predicted to be gone. Reduction of glacier size is included in the painting, as well as a printed map depicting the rapid melting of the Sperry Glacier. In fact, the 2017 fire season was the worst ever seen, and while I as there hiking, the historic Sperry Chalet burned down. The second half of my trip there had to be cancelled due to the massive amount of smoke in the Park. Also threatening Glacier is oil drilling and fracking, as shown on the right side of the painting. Automobile use is somewhat restricted and massive crowds of tourists further threaten the park when individuals don’t respect the natural land.


Today, the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, occupying 1.5 million acres, skirts the eastern edge of Glacier National Park, and the NP Service has arranged for Native use of the current park land in its original usages. In fact, the only hunting and fishing allowed in the Park is for the Blackfoot Tribe, and vision quests and other ceremonies still take place here. Much of the land on the fringes of the east end is owned by Native peoples, allowing for economic growth for the tribe. Members of the Blackfoot Tribe run tour companies, and they are currently attempting to create their own National Park at the edge of Glacier, going all the way to the Canadian border.

Warming Peril, by Beth Shadur

Garden Wall Trail, Glacial Overlook, watercolor by Beth Shadur

Cleave, watercolor by Beth Shadur

Peril St. Mary's Lake, (detail)