By Tom W. Smith
Last spring, Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and the Youth Programs Office at Yellowstone National Park collaborated to host a regional workshop to advance respectful and holistic methods in interpreting historical and contemporary indigenous perspectives. The workshop brought together more than 30 managers and education staff from the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Montana State Parks, and the Yellowstone Forever Institute.
Here at Lewis and Clark NHT, we’ve been supporting partners all along the trail in utilizing our Honoring Tribal Legacies program to advance the interpretation of indigenous perspectives across the country. This pilot workshop featured presentations by recognized Crow Tribal Historian and Lead Ranger at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Marvin Dawes. In addition, Dr. Shane Doyle, also of the Crow Nation, presented stories and cultural traditions of the Crow people.
Participants had an opportunity to learn tribal stories, perspectives, and experiences. Utilizing the lessons, they evaluated their current interpretive programming and built themes to improve their interpretive programming for the future. Also, we made sure to embed time for all of these great interpreters and educators to interact, exchange ideas, brainstorm with one another, and learn from each other. They explored and discussed what strategies are working with various audiences.
“It was wonderful for education staff from several agencies to come together and to learn more about Crow perspectives. It was a great opportunity to explore ways we can improve education programs to better honor their legacy and traditions respectfully,” said Beth Taylor, NPS Education Program Manager in Yellowstone. “Both the time we spent outside learning Crow stories connecting people to the landscape and the time spent indoors sharing ideas and planning programs were valuable and rewarding. The Apsaalooke (Crow) are one of many tribes with a strong connection to Yellowstone and we hope to build upon what we learned.”
Before this workshop started, we weren't really sure what we had on our hands. We knew that A) there are a lot of great interpreters out there along the trail and throughout the NPS that interpret American Indian stories, but do so carefully, without much or any guidance from American Indians themselves, and B) that here at Lewis and Clark Trail, we work with a lot of great American Indian people who are enthusiastic about sharing their traditional wisdom with others. Our hope was that if we put A and B together, that we might have something really special on our hands.
Implementing a workshop for the first time can get intimidating. When you’re planning, you can get overwhelmed with doubts and questions. Will this information make sense? Will participants need or even want this information? When the workshop is over, will they be able to take away useful ideas and strategies? Am I planning too much time for this activity? Is it not enough time? You really don’t have those answers until you get in there and try it. I can tell you that by the end of the first day of the workshop, we knew that we were onto something. Participants were engaged, and often contributing their own expertise and experiences.
Well before the conclusion of the workshop, organizers and participants alike were already talking about what we could do to build on this momentum in a year two and even a year three. Now, here at the Trail, we've confirmed our suspicions about this great need for interpreters, we've found a wonderful tool to address it, and we' re working to develop innovative strategies to capture that success from last spring in Yellowstone, and replicate it with our partners all across the trail.
Lastly, I wanted to note that this project has taught me so much about the value of partnerships and collaboration. This project could not have been successful without the contributions of so many different stakeholders. First of all, the contributions of Dr. Shane Doyle and Marvin Dawes were vital. Their expertise was instrumental. Second, we here at Lewis and Clark NHT did not plan this alone. Beth Taylor and Bob Fuhrman from the Youth Programs Office at Yellowstone NP were not just excellent hosts, but also truly meaningful partners in the planning and implementation. Accordingly, their friends at Yellowstone Forever rolled out the red carpet for all participants. They donated food, provided buses, and even had bus drivers available at a moment’s notice. Contributions that we otherwise simply could not have afforded. Finally, the participants. They took this idea, and just ran with it and made it their own. They, too are subject-matter experts, and giving them all opportunities to contribute not just as participants, but as contributors as well—a brain trust, consequently enriching the experience for all.
Tom W. Smith is the Education Specialist at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.