Dark History of National Parks

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Troubling Origins of the US National Parks

In the U.S., the National Park system was part of a larger effort to relocate and remove Native Americans as suggested by historical evidence. It is a well-known historical fact that "Native people have deep ties to the greatest known parks — Yellowstone, Glacier, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Olympic, Mesa Verde, Everglades and many others." The tribes utilized their ancestral land for hunting, gathering, and cultural purposes. On the other hand, many people still consider these National Park, as a "gift" of the US government to its people. However, very few of them know that the government formed these parks by removing the natives "from their ancestral territories and pushing them onto much smaller reservations."

Thorough research has been carried out through numerous articles by historians, human right activists, and officials in order to search for the evidence in support of the hypothesis — "Troubling Origins of the US National Parks." A deep dive into the research is presented below.


On August 27, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson initiated the National Park Service by forming a bureau in the Department of Interiors. This is only one side of the story. The other side of the story presents a gloomy picture of the stolen gift presented to the American people in the name of National Parks. The word "stolen" is used here, because the National Parks, in light of the topic, were once inhabited by the natives of America, called the Indian tribes, and the federal government simply ignored, invalidated, and overlooked the land rights of the Native Americans.

America's most beloved National Parks, which include "Glacier, Badlands, Mesa Verde, the Grand Canyon, and Death Valley, " were carved out of the lands where Native Americans once lived. The story of stealing the land of National Parks began with the Yellowstone Act of 1872, signed by President Ulysses S. Grant, whose political ambitions led him to steal over 2.2 million acres of Native American's land, to present it as a "gift" to the American public, thereby winning their trust. The act was passed quickly into the law but never became a part of the National debate, as most of the Americans were not aware of the land which was far away from them in the sprawling wilderness of the west. It is believed that more than 26 indigenous tribes inhabited the land, which is still considered sacred by them. Under the Yellowstone Act of 1872, the natives were declared as trespassers on their ancestral lands, and gave law enforcers permission to remove the "persons who shall locate or settle upon or occupy the same, or any part" of the land that now belonged to the National Parks.
From 1901 to 1909, Theodore Roosevelt served for the second term as the President of America (first in September 1901). His "seven and a half years in office were marked by his support of the Indian allotment system, the removal of Indians from their lands and the destruction of their culture."


In the history of Native Americans of the Yellowstone, it is written that the natives had only marginal interest in the park's natural resources. They were also mentioned as "isolated band of Sheep Eaters" who are afraid of the hot geysers of the park, so they shied away from it, and had no further interest in the park. However, the reality suggests a different history that needs to be rewritten. The Yellowstone National Park has had direct cultural connections with the Paleo Indians for more than 10,000 years. Other tribes that share their cultural roots with the park include "plains tribes such as the Blackfeet, Crow, Mountain Shoshone (Sheep Eaters), Shoshone-Bannock, Flathead, and other tribal bands." The tribes used the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for hunting purposes; for gathering natural resources like, "Lodge-pole Pine (Pinus contorta) for tee pees, aspen, cottonwood, obsidian, various berry and root varieties, medicinal plants and thermal clay." They also had a spiritual connection with the mountains and natural features of the park. These pieces of evidence suggest that false history has been presented to the American public, regarding Native Americans and their habitat.


In 1851, during Mariposa War, California soldiers discovered the valley where the Ahwahneechee Indians resided. The native name of the region was Ahwahnee, which means the place with a "gaping-mouth." The soldiers violently expelled the Ahwanhneechee, and renamed the valley, "Yosemite." However, the Ahwanhneechee returned the Yosemite Valley and humiliated themselves with jobs designed to entertain the visitors and tourists by their cultural activities, in order to stay in their native land. In 1969, they were violently evicted from the region and their homes were burned down. Additionally, authorities stationed the United States Army at Yellowstone from 1886 to 1918 in order to violently displace indigenous people away from the park.
Historian Karl Jacoby told Huff Post "conservation is used as a tool of colonialism," to highlight the violent displacement of indigenous tribes to form National Parks in the name of conservation.
This displacement of indigenous tribes was a century-long affair. For example, in 1872, the Shoshone who resided in the Yellowstone were removed as per the treaty of 1868, which was never ratified by the US Congress; in 1895, citing the richness of natural resources in the Glacier Natural Park, the US government sent its official in the park to displace the Blackfeet with an offer of $1.5 million along with a permission to "hunt, gather and cut timber there"; in 1830, the Indians residing in the Everglades was forced to empty the land under the Indian Removal Act signed by the President Andrew Jackson.


In conclusion, the historical facts support a crystal clear evidence that the Native Americans had suffered violent displacement in the name of National Parks by the federal authorities for centuries. Additionally, the Americans have been presented with the false piece of evidence by the authorities that the Native Americans were just an isolated band of "Sheep Eaters" who had no interest in their native lands, so they left the land all by themselves. However, the true fact is that the "violent displacement" of the indigenous tribe is a century-long affair which was carried out in the greatest National Parks of the US, which includes the National Parks of "Yellowstone, Glacier, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Olympic, Mesa Verde, Everglades, and many others."
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Marginalization and National Parks

According to a 2011 report by the National Park Service (NPS), released in 2011, 78% of national park visitors are white, while only 9% are of Hispanic ethnicity and 7% are black. The prevalence of white visitors to national parks has varied over time but has seen little improvement in including people of color in recent years. While this report is the most recent nationwide report released by the NPS, more recent statistics released by national parks such as Saguaro and Yellowstone (discussed in greater depth later in this brief) indicate that diversity continues to be a challenge for US national parks.

Below we provide further statistics on the lack of diversity of national park visitors in the US, along with details of strategies, organizations and initiatives that encourage diversity amongst national park visitors.


As previously mentioned, 78% of national park visitors are white. With regard to the ethnicity of the remaining visitors, approximately 9% were Hispanic, 7% are black, while Native American, Latino and non-white visitors make up the rest.

Recent historical data suggests no movement in this figure, with white visitors accounting for 78% of all national park attendees in 2008 to 2009. However, an improvement from the year 2000 was recorded with 83% of national park visitors identifying as white. Looking further back, data from a survey of visitors to five federal recreation reserves and 11 state agencies in 1985 to 1987 demonstrated that 94% of visitors were white, 2.2% were Hispanic and 2% were African American.

According to a 2016 Hart Research report, 59% of white respondents reported visiting a national park within the past three years compared to only 32% of African Americans and 47% of Hispanics.

The same report confirmed that in 2016, 80% of National Park Service (NPS) employees identified as white, which does not help to encourage a sense of diversity or reflect the countries varied history and heritage. The same figure of 80% was also reported in 2014, indicating no improvement in diversifying NPS employees. Furthermore, when looking at 300 environmental agencies, organizations and foundations, less than 16% of board members at each institution were from a diverse background. Additionally, minorities hold less than 12% of environmental leadership positions.

In contrast, a survey of 900 Asian Pacific Americans, Latinos and African Americans found that 70% of participants state that they currently take part in outdoor activities on public land.

One location-specific example of underrepresented minority groups are the visitors reported at Saguaro National Park in Arizona. In nearby Tucson, just a five-minute drive away, 44% of the population is either Hispanic or Latino. But according to visitor statistics, under 2% of visitors are from these ethnic backgrounds. As a consequence, this park may be totally irrelevant to the nearby communities in the future if measures for increasing diversity aren't taken.

A recent visitor use survey conducted in 2016 in Yellowstone National Park suggests that diversity continues to be a struggle for national parks: the survey found that 82% of those surveyed identified as being white, 15% Asian, 7% Hispanic or Latino, and just 1% African American.


According to a report by the Center for American Progress published in 2016, policy recommendations were made to create more parks and monuments that tell the story of all racial groups in America. In 2014 and 2015, 20 new national park units and monuments were established with a specific focus on diverse cultures. But this means only 122 out of 480 national US monuments and parks have a focus on diverse groups. Therefore, according to this report, further development is needed to represent all Americans and to encourage visits for people of color.


This organization, governed by the National Park Service (NPS), aims to allow all Americans to develop personal connections to national parks. They do this by representing the perspectives and beliefs of different cultural backgrounds throughout the organization. The organization also partners with NPS stakeholders to develop programs that align with their values.

Hispanic Organization on Relevancy, Advising, Leadership and Excellence (HORALE)
HORALE advises the NPS leaders, providing guidance and recommendations for designing and implementing plans and initiatives relevant to Hispanic people. They aim to do this by improving the hiring practices, retention of and visibility of Hispanic employees and focus particularly on sites that are of historical significance to Hispanic people.

Social Media
Platforms such as Facebook are used to encourage people of color to participate in activities such as hiking. Minority families' photos of outdoor activities help other people of color believe that they too can get out into the woods and enjoy national parks.


Aiming to encourage people of color, particularly African Americans, this initiative was founded by a couple who met hiking the Mission Peak trail in California. While black Americans make up 13% of the population, they are underrepresented in national park visitor statistics. The H.E.A.T. Facebook page currently has close to 3,000 followers and around 50 to 70 hikers join the group on each of their outings in the Bay Area.

The EEC is overseen by the NPS' Office of Relevancy, Diversity and Inclusion and is designed to promote and educate NPS employees on the history of African Americans with regard to national parks. Additionally, it aims to increase the hiring and retainment of African American employees and increase visibility, which in turn could encourage more people of color to visit national parks.

This campaign was launched by the NPS to encourage millennials of all backgrounds to visit national parks. Social media is a major form of marketing, along with using public identities of various cultural backgrounds to promote the initiative. Essentially, it is hoped the program will create a dialogue between people of different ethnic backgrounds within this age group.

This campaign involves inviting fourth graders, particularly from minority areas, to visit national parks. Funded by the NPS, it hopes that by visiting and providing an experience in a national park, children will consider it as an option for a future career.


In closing, in recent times, little improvement has been observed in the over-representation of white people visiting national parks. In order to combat this, a number of strategies, organizations and initiatives have been established to encourage diverse peoples to connect with and visit national parks.