By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune
In 2017, a coalition of Native American tribes called on the federal government to rename a pair of Yellowstone National Park locations, asserting that the namesakes of Mount Doane and Hayden Valley were unworthy of the honor.
Four years later, the tribes’ petition remains in limbo, with the National Park Service having yet to weigh in on the proposal.
Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said much of the delay has been ensuring the Park Service has a “comprehensive engagement” with the more than two dozen tribes associated with the park. In an interview last week, Sholly said he is open to the idea of changing the name of Mount Doane. He said a few different alternatives have been suggested, “and we’ll be happy to work with the tribes closely to see what might be possible.”
As for renaming Hayden Valley, “I think we need to kind of look at everything that’s been submitted a little more closely — what the recommendations for change are, which tribes have been involved in those conversations,” Sholly said. “I want to really engage the tribes more to see exactly what they’re thinking.”
The Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association and the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council submitted a petition to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in September 2017 that formally requested the two name changes; the groups represent leaders from 26 different tribes, including the Eastern Shoshone Tribal Council and the Northern Arapaho Tribal Council of Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation.
The tribes’ petition called the namesake of Mount Doane, Gustavus C. Doane, “a war criminal” and accused Hayden Valley namesake Ferdinand Hayden of being a racist who advocated for genocide of Native Americans. The petition suggested new names of First People’s Mountain and Buffalo Nations Valley, calling the current monikers shameful and deplorable.
There are questions about whether Hayden — a pioneering explorer of Yellowstone and the Rocky Mountains — made some of the racist statements attributed to him in the tribes’ petition, but historical records and historians paint a more damning picture of Doane.
The Cavalry lieutenant led one of the government’s first expeditions into Yellowstone in 1870, but also participated in the Marias Massacre, in which more than 200 Piegan Blackfeet — mostly women and children — were killed.
The Cavalry had actually attacked the wrong band of Piegan, according to a summary prepared for the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, killing people who had been promised protection by the federal government. Yet two decades later, Doane unapologetically boasted of his role in the “the greatest slaughter of Indians ever made by U.S. troops.”
The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has been seeking input on the proposed name changes to Mount Doane and Hayden Valley since 2017.
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Park County commissioners unanimously voted to oppose the proposals in May 2018. Then-Commissioner Tim French, now a state senator, called them the “dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” “political correctness run amok” and an attempt “to rewrite history.”
The Wyoming Board on Geographic Names initially waited to see what position the National Park Service would take, but with no word from the federal agency, the state board opted to move forward in 2019. The Wyoming board voted 7-1 to recommend leaving Hayden’s name on the sprawling valley that lies between Fishing Bridge and Canyon, but voted 6-2 to support stripping Doane’s name from the mountain peak, which lies east of Yellowstone Lake.
Two years later after the state board’s vote, the Park Service is continuing to visit with tribal representatives, including a conversation last week. Sholly mentioned that, when he looks at the groups that were a part of the petition, “there’s a lot of tribes that aren’t on that list.”
Membership rolls indicate that the South Dakota-based Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association and the Billings-based Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, who filed the petition, represent leaders from 18 of the 27 tribes associated with Yellowstone.
Sholly noted that, in general, there are varying opinions among the different tribes.
“[I] want to make sure that, to the best degree possible, we’ve got as much consensus around what we change the name to,” he said. “I’m not adverse to changing the name of Mount Doane, so we’ll keep working with them on that and figure out what the best way forward is there.”
In the meantime, Sholly said Yellowstone officials have been working on ways to bring more of a tribal presence in the park.
As part of Yellowstone’s 150th anniversary next year, a large tepee village will be erected near the North Entrance, providing an opportunity for visitors to speak with tribal members — and Native American art will be displayed at the Old Faithful Haynes Photo Shop. As part of ongoing dialogues with the tribes on what the Park Service can be doing better, Yellowstone officials have also compiled an inventory of all the park’s exhibits relating to Native Americans, Sholly said.
“We’ll be asking the tribes to look at what we’ve been doing, are we doing it right, what are we missing, what needs to be changed?” he said.
As for the potential name changes to Mount Doane and Hayden Valley, that decision will ultimately rest with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, a panel made up of representatives from various federal agencies. It is unclear when the board might take up the proposal.