Sublime:  Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park sits on land occupied by and/or sacred to many nations, including the Shoshone, Bannock, Crow, Nez Perce (Nimi ‘ipu) Kiowa, Sheep-Eaters (Tukudika) (or the descendants’ preferred name, Mountain People), and Marias (Piikani) tribes. Its location at the convergence of the Great Plains, Great Basin and Plateau Indian cultures means that many Native American nations have a traditional connection to the land. Twenty-six current tribes have historic connections to land and resources now found within Yellowstone National Park. These nations are Assiniboine and Sioux; Blackfeet; Cheyenne River Sioux; Coeur d’Alene; Comanche; Colville Reservation; Crow; Crow Creek Sioux; Eastern Shoshone; Flandreau Santee Sioux; Gros Ventre and Assiniboine; Kiowa; Lower Brule Sioux; Nez Perce; Northern Arapaho; Northern Cheyenne; Oglala Sioux; Rosebud Sioux; Salish and Kootenai; Shoshone-Bannock; Sisseton Wahpeton; Spirit Lake; Standing Rock Sioux; Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa; Umatilla Reservation; and Yankton Sioux.


Human occupation in the Park followed environmental changes, so that as the climate warmed from the Ice Age, more peoples arrived. The Paleo-Indian period of 11,000 years ago yielded a Clovis point, tooled from stone. The Hell Gap point depicted in the top area of the painting is dated to 9600-10,000 years ago. The Folsom People occupied areas throughout the Park, and varied sites have yielded artifacts. There is evidence of a site on the shores of Yellowstone Lake; and some trails in the Park were likely used by early inhabitants. Beginning 3000 years ago, there was increased use of the area by Salish ancestors, from 1400-1770s, Kiowa ancestors and the Lakota Sioux exploring in the 1700s; all known from Native oral histories. In 1877, the Nez Perce were fleeing the US Army through Yellowstone Park, ending in terrible tragedy. Various artifacts from the Sheep-Eaters, using big-horn sheep parts to create bows and tools, are depicted in the painting with a ceramic bowl from early occupation. Temporary shelters, or wikiups (shown on left side) were built by tribes who utilized the land seasonally. Various tribes used the hydrothermal sites for both medicinal and religious ceremonies; in fact, the Mud Volcano’s Dragon’s Mouth is where, by oral tradition, the Kiowa tribe creator gave them Yellowstone as home. (shown in center of painting)


The first Europeans who came into the area were fur traders in the 1700s, and various expeditions took place in the early to mid-19th century, including the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition (Langford is depicted on horseback in the lower left) in 1870, when they “discovered” and named the Old Faithful Geyser. The Park became the world’s first national park in 1872. In 1903, President Roosevelt dedicated the arch at the North Entrance (upper area of painting). Various forms of transportation brought new visitors to the Park beginning in 1883 when the Northern Pacific Railroad reached the Park’s northern boundary, followed by the Union Pacific Train service beginning at West Yellowstone in 1908. In 1915, private automobiles were allowed on Park roads. The Tally-Ho stagecoach, shown in the mid-left area, led by white horses, brought visitors to the old National Hotel, (now called the Mammoth Hotel) The area became very popular with tourists, and several scenes show various sites with early tourists.


Yellowstone is known for its beauty (there are many famous sites shown throughout the painting, depicting hot bubbling mud, steam vents, hot pools, Yellowstone Lake, and thermal sites, and its wildlife. Recognition of threats to wildlife took place as early as 1975, when the grizzly bear was listed as threatened in the United States lower 48 states. In 1995, grey wolves were restored into the Park, after their numbers were decimated by hunters and ranchers. More recently, in 2007, grizzlies were removed from the federally threatened list, causing much controversy. While the numbers have improved, grizzlies are threated (as are elk, bison and wolves) by lack of connectivity in open protected land, so that wildlife can travel and remain healthy by less inter-breeding. Thirty five Native tribes, who see the grizzly bear as a relative and important to their culture, have passed a formal resolution against de-listing the grizzly. Delisting the grizzly removes the major obstacle to proposed gold mines being built thirty miles north of the park. Lucky Minerals, a Canadian Mining company, wants to drill for gold in Emigrant Gulch and on Emigrant Peak, proposing a 2500 acre mine in the tributary drainages of the Yellowstone River. Such development would endanger quality of water in Yellowstone, as well as increase traffic and noise.

In 2017, grey wolves (shown in the middle right of painting) were taken off the Wyoming endangered species list. It is still listed on the Federal Endangered Species list. When wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone, environmental impact was terrifically positive, and the reintroduction considered a huge success.


Other issues for Yellowstone include accelerated climate change causing less snow, leading to altered vegetation patterns and impaired water availability, longer wildfire seasons, shifting ranges for birds and animals, and degraded air quality. Some species that are threatened include the grizzly bear, whose diet of whitebark pine is threatened, causing them to seek more elk and livestock and the black footed ferret (in lower left of painting). Large numbers of snowmobilers and mountain bikers destroy native habitat, and humans littering in the Park lead to ingestion by wildlife and disease among wildlife. Car activity leads to pollution, so that tourists impact this Park greatly.


A looming large threat is the building of cell towers to accommodate both tourists and park workers. These impose threats to wildlife and birds, given that many birds navigate by magnetic fields. Cell signals would blot our magnetic vision and give birds conflicting navigational data. Studies show this may affect bees as well.

Contemporary Native tribes in the area have requested name changes for Mount Doane to First Peoples Mountain, citing Doane’s participation in a massacre of a Native community; they have also suggested changing Hayden Valley, citing potential racist writings by Hayden, one of the early explorers of the area.


There are said to be 1600 cultural sites within the boundaries of Yellowstone. The tribes have requested to participate in resource management and decision-making, to conduct ceremonies and other events in the park, and to collect plants and minerals for traditional uses. Tribes are most concerned about the management of bison that leave the park; many tribes have a physical and spiritual connection to bison in Yellowstone. Since 2007, some associated tribes have had the opportunity to conduct bison hunts outside the park boundaries. Since November 2009, the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council, and the Nez Perce Tribe have joined the Interagency Bison Management Plan and participate in the development of adaptive management strategies for bison and Brucellosis in the areas immediately outside Yellowstone National Park.


In 2018, the park consulted with associated tribes on increasing opportunities for non-consumptive ceremonial use of the park. Consultants reviewed park educational media and programming for representation of native peoples and perspectives. Previous education consultation focused on the Yellowstone segment of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail and the associated sites and events of the 1877 Nez Perce War.


Currently, Yellowstone hosts an internship program which places Native American students from the University of Montana into resource management and resource education jobs with the National Park Service. In addition, Yellowstone also hosts Native American youth conservation volunteers through the Montana Conservation Corps.


“The retreat of the Artic sea ice, the warming of the oceans, the rapid shrinking of the glaciers, the redistribution of species, the thawing of the permafrost—these are all new phenomena. It is only in the last five or ten years that global warming has finally emerged from the background “noise” of climate variability. And even so, the changes that can be seen lag behind the changes that have been set into motion. The warming that has been observed so far is probably only about half the amount required to bring the planet back into energy balance. This means that even if carbon dioxide were to remain stable at today’s levels, temperatures would still continue to rise, glaciers to melt, and weather patterns to change for decades to come.”

Elizabeth Kolbert, 2006

Field Notes from a Catastrophe


The Virgin River Speaks of Loneliness

so deep

are narrow canyon walls,

cut into the heart of Zion

while the cottonwood trees and box elder

stand bewildered and confused.

Where does the wind come from?

and why do these waters rush along?

Look up.

Time leaves a message

on these sandstone cliffs

no traveler can read.

-----Lois Roma-Deeley

Written for Beth Shadur’s Sublime