"We are still here!" The words of countless indigenous tribes.
Long before any of our favorite national parks were established, native people hunted, fished and gathered on these lands. Most, if not all, national parks were home to Indigenous people. Tribes were forcibly removed from their homelands by the white colonizers. Our National Park service continues to struggle with this dark past to this very day.
From 1778 to 1871, the United States government entered into more than 500 treaties with the Native American tribes, all these treaties have since been violated in some way or outright broken by the U.S. government. First Nations people are still fighting for their treaty rights in federal courts.
Currently, 79% of National Park workers are white, with 63% of its workforce being male. African Americans comprise just 7%. Hispanics make up 5.6%. The most underappreciated and underrepresented race of indigenous blood makes up a measly 5.6%. How do we change this?
Non-indigenous people consider land to be something they own, a commodity to profit from. For native tribes there is a spiritual, physical and cultural connection to the land they were forced off. Burial sites, trees, rivers and animals are all a part of their ancestors.
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Indigenous people have a connection to every national park we visit today, yet their stories are anchored by the perceptions and experiences of colonial people. As a Mexican American with strong Indigenous Yaqui ancestry, I often feel a disconnect when I see a non-indigenous park rangers explaining sacred tribal land at a national park. How we fix this is easy.
I believe our National Park System needs a federal Indigenous hiring preference as well as active outreach to encourage Native people to work at National Parks. One in four Indigenous people live in poverty. Incomes of Indigenous people tend to be low, and unemployment rates are usually high. The National Park system has an obligation to Indigenous people for years of systemic racism and profit off their land.
To every social media influencer who photographs, does yoga poses, hikes and climbs on native land: How does your access impact the stolen land you are profiting from?
Preserving the heritage and history that make this land so remarkable is a staple to the survival of indigenous people.
Maritza S. Oropeza of Latino Outdoors lives in Portland.
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