February 4, 2009
Youth & Elders Participate in Cross-Cultural Exchange
Twenty-six tribes trace their cultural heritage back to the lands now known as Yellowstone National Park, but most tribal members—especially youth—never have an opportunity to visit the park. Last June, a group of 16 Shoshone-Bannock youth, elders, and tribal chaperones traveled from Southeast Idaho to gather in Yellowstone with Park staff for a week of exploration and information-sharing.
Cross-Cultural Exchange program goals include creating opportunities for tribal youth to learn from elders, Yellowstone staff, and each other. The itinerary for the program was developed collaboratively by Park staff and tribal elders to ensure that it included the places vital to Shoshone-Bannock history and identity, as well as those relevant to the students’ lives today. This approach is nothing short of revolutionary for the National Park Service (NPS). Creating programs with audiences, not for them is a vital shift, which will prove critically important for increased public engagement as the NPS enters its second century.
Learning from Each Other
For the elders, the Exchange was a time for renewing connections to a homeland, with which most had little if any opportunity for direct experience. Yet they knew stories of this land, passed on by previous generations. Now it was their turn to share cultural knowledge and values relating to Yellowstone.
Immersed in this vibrant, living landscape, memories, stories and songs bubbled to the surface. The Exchange was a time of discovery and excitement as old bonds were strengthened and new bonds were forged between people and place.
Elders told the youth about how the Shoshone-Bannock came to Yellowstone, the culture of their Sheep Eater ancestors, and the deeds and teachings of notable tribal members. They shared accounts of the creatures of old, explained the wisdom of territories for wolves and people, and joined soft voices in native tongue, singing ancient tales of gathering pine nuts, and sleeping under trees to get peace.
Scientific concepts and current resource management issues were presented in an integrated manner. For instance, on the day the group went wolf-watching in the Lamar Valley, a Park ranger spoke first about the biology of wolves and their role in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Then the elders elaborated on the cultural significance of wolves.
Other important locations visited during the trip included Yellowstone Lake, Bannock Trail, Obsidian Cliff, Sheep Eater Cliff, Mud Volcano, and an area near Mammoth traditionally used for buffalo hunting.
A Week to Remember
For all, the multi-day, residential program allowed time and space for maximum learning and growth. Removed from everyday roles, responsibilities and pressures, participants learned about the Park and cultural traditions. Park staff members learned more about the cultural history of Park resources that they can integrate into future educational programs.
One student commented “I very much enjoyed my time here because I was with my people and the land we used a long time ago.”
By the farewell dinner at the week’s end, youth were talking excitedly about returning with their families, and many considered for the first time Park-based career opportunities.
The Cross-Cultural Exchange program is one of four program initiatives with the goal of inspiring future Yellowstone stewards. These programs are made possible by an $883,000 commitment to the Yellowstone Park Foundation by Toyota USA. Additional funding was also provided by a grant from the O.P. and W.E. Edwards Foundation. The Spirit of Alexandria Foundation provided bus transportation.
The Cross-Cultural Exchange program hosted its first tribe in 2005. The Eastern Shoshone will participate in July of 2009, in the fourth such program hosted by the Park with support from the Yellowstone Park Foundation.