Northern Cheyenne Tribe Remains at the Forefront of Key Struggles for Rights and culture, denounces “Highly Offensive” Yellowstone Names

Chief Grier, Chairman L. Jace Killsback & Faith Spotted Eagle

Published September 30, 2017

LAME DEER, MONTANA — “There is no question that Doane was a war criminal, and Hayden was a white supremacist who openly advocated for the ‘extermination’ of our people, an incitement to genocide published in a government document,” Northern Cheyenne President, L. Jace Killsback, stated to US Geological Service Director (Acting), Bill Werkheiser, in a letter sent this week.

Native News Online obtained a copy of the letter, in which Killsback presents documented historical fact alongside traditional cultural knowledge to impugn the apparent reluctance of the USGS’s Board of Geographic Names (BGN) to enact a now three-year old Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC) resolution that called for the names to be changed. The letter also challenges Yellowstone National Park’s contentment with the names, as the Park administration continues to offer platitudes about “understanding the sensitivity” of the issue, but is yet to act.

President L. Jace Killsback

USGS-BGN officials have offered contradictory responses when questioned about the multi-tribe, years-long movement to change the names of Lieutenant Gustavus Doane and Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden which, Killsback writes, “defile” the sacred tribal lands that now comprise Yellowstone. On the one hand, officials have claimed that the agency hasn’t received a proposal to change the names, but on the other have acknowledged being aware of tribes’ “condemnation” of the names for “a couple of years.” The RMTLC resolution was passed and submitted in December 2014.

At a Congressional oversight hearing in December 2016, Acting Director Werkheiser testified to “management failures” within the USGS while being questioned about decades of data manipulation by the agency. The Department of Interior Inspector General and a Scientific Integrity Review Panel found a chronic pattern of misconduct dating back to 1996 within a section of the USGS.

“Doane’s slaughter of defenseless Piikani Blackfoot women and children at first light on January 23, 1870, evokes the Sand Creek Massacre, a heinous act of inhuman barbarity committed upon our people. There is not, never was, nor ever will be, any justification or place for the names of killers like Doane and Chivington to be memorialized,” President Killsback informs Werkheiser. “Mount Doane” in Yellowstone National Park was named in honor of the 2nd Cavalry lieutenant who led the massacre which left over 200 victims, all but 15 non-combatants, many of them children, “none older than twelve years and many of them in their mother’s arms,” accounted Indian Agent W.A. Pease.

In 1872, the year Yellowstone National Park was established, Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden wrote in a USGS Survey published by the federal government that tribes “must ultimately be exterminated” if they would not “enter upon agricultural pursuits” while noting that neither the lifestyle and cultures of Plains tribes were suited to “pastoral pursuits,” which led Hayden to conclude, “If extermination is the result of non-compliance, then compulsion is an act of mercy.” Hayden openly promoted white supremacy, and proclaimed “the pre-eminence, both intellectual and moral, of the white race” was “incontestable.” He argued that the “treatment” of slaves by Confederate plantation owners “was not barbarous” as “seemingly cruel laws were greatly needed as measures of self-protection on the part of the whites.”

Hayden Valley, Yellowstone’s main east-west thoroughfare, celebrates Hayden. Some four-million visitors annually traverse this valley in America’s most iconic national park, unaware that it is named for a proponent of genocide. “The Northern Cheyenne Tribe is a signatory of the Declaration to change the name of Mount Doane to ‘First People’s Mountain,’ in honor and remembrance of the victims of those who died at the hands of Doane, Chivington, and their ilk. As stated in the Declaration, the sacred area presently defiled by the name of Ferdinand V. Hayden should be replaced by ‘Buffalo Nations Valley,’ to recognize all of the tribes connected to this sacred landscape, and to highlight the 10,000-plus years of Indigenous history in Yellowstone,” writes President Killsback.

“The Northern Cheyenne Tribe is one of the twenty-six nations recognized by the Department of the Interior as an ‘Associated Tribe of Yellowstone.’ Our people have an ancient association with that land, and the sacred beings that still survive there – the grizzly bear, the buffalo, and the wolf to name but three. The Cheyenne are the only people to retain a narrative that explains the creation of what is now called Obsidian Cliff, one of the most significant cultural sights in North America,” President Killsback continues.

The Northern Cheyenne are among the tribal nations that have filed suit against the Trump Administration over the delisting from the Endangered Species Act of the grizzly bear in Greater Yellowstone. Tribal opposition to the removal of protections from the grizzly bear, and consequently, ancestral lands and sacred sites in occupied grizzly habitat, began on the Northern Cheyenne Nation. Northern Cheyenne Sun Dance Priest and Spiritual Leader, Don Shoulderblade, founded GOAL Tribal Coalition.

Northern Cheyenne Sun Dance Priest Don Shoulderblade

Shoulderblade’s organization successfully raised awareness throughout Indian Country about the devastating cultural impacts delisting and trophy hunting the sacred Great Bear would have on Native people, with threats to tribal religious and spiritual freedoms, treaty rights, and sovereignty. The Northern Cheyenne Tribe was the first to make both an official declaration and pass a resolution opposing grizzly delisting in 2014.

On June 22, 2017, the morning of the grizzly delisting announcement, Interior Secretary Zinke testified before Congress at a House Committee on Natural Resources Oversight Hearing and conceded that, regarding tribal consultation, “Some of the consultation has been a website, rather than personal; some where the consultation has been more notification rather than consultation.” Zinke confirmed what tribal leaders said throughout, that there was no “pre-decisional” or “meaningful government-to-government consultation” on grizzly delisting.

“Will you commit to consult with affected tribes prior to any delisting announcement?” Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay pressed Zinke. “I will commit to that. I think it’s not only a right, it’s the law. But two things, it’s the right thing to do,” Zinke stated. Shortly after he concluded his testimony, Zinke announced the “delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly bear.” In the approximately two-hour hiatus between his testimony and announcement of the rule, Zinke didn’t “consult with affected tribes.” Some 17 tribal nations and traditional societies are now suing the Trump administration for failure to consult, among other claims, related to grizzly delisting.

For the Northern Cheyenne Administration of President Killsback and Vice President Conrad Fisher, Zinke’s “alternative facts” under oath and abrogation of government-to-government consultation mandates is more of the same. The Northern Cheyenne Tribe was the first to file suit against the Trump Administration, after Zinke ignored the tribe’s petition to consult prior to the president’s executive order that enabled Zinke to lift the moratorium on leasing coal on “tens of thousands of acres” of federal lands without having completed a previously required environmental review.

The federal-Indian trust responsibility is now seemingly only applicable when Secretary Zinke deems it convenient. Tribal Nations await to see if Zinke responds to their appeals to intervene in the Yellowstone name change struggle. “We ask you, our trustee, to bring an end to this chapter of dishonorable myth making,” Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council Executive Director, Bill Snell, has petitioned the secretary.

Photographs courtesy of © Alter-Native Media.

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