Most Americans know about Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the U.S., which was established in 1872. Probably less well-known is the fact that Native American tribes were removed from the land to make the park possible.
Yellowstone is not an anomaly. Many Native American tribes once lived on sprawling ancestral lands that the U.S. government either forcibly took from them or purchased through treaties whose provisions were subsequently nullified. Some of this land later became part of the nation's 400-plus national parks and sites, with the U.S. government providing the historical interpretations. These interpretations, however, either downplayed or ignored the Indigenous point of view.
Creating tribal national parks allows Indigenous people to be in charge of the narrative. Simply put, tribal national parks are national parks created on tribal lands. The first of these tribal national parks was Frog Bay Tribal National Park in Wisconsin, opened by the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in 2012. The park is on the state's Bayfield peninsula, across from the famous Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Several more tribal national parks are in the works, as Indigenous people seek to preserve and protect their land, while creating recreational opportunities for their members and others. But there's another important reason for these parks' creation: They allow the tribes to tell their own stories.
The idea to create Frog Bay a decade ago came up organically, after a small parcel of land was repatriated to the Red Cliff, says Gabrielle VanBergen, who was until recently deputy administrator of the Red Cliff Treaty Natural Resources Division. The main priority in declaring the land a tribal national park was to protect and preserve it, as it's part of the large, yet sensitive, Lake Superior watershed. But the tribe then decided to share it with both tribal members and the public.
Today, you can enjoy nearly 2 miles (3 kilometers) of hiking trails that wind through an old-growth cedar-hemlock forest and down to the shores of Lake Superior, where five of the 21 Apostle Islands are visible. The park also contains a smattering of interpretive signage offering information about the flora and fauna and about the Anishinaabe, a culturally related group of Indigenous people that includes the Lake Superior Chippewa.
"We could go further and put up QR codes, but there's a hesitation to take that step," says Andy Edwards, Red Cliff Treaty Natural Resources Division administrator. "The park is a unique remnant landscape, and right now our values are to keep it more natural."