America's first national park turns 150, but Native Americans cared for Yellowstone long before

America's first national park celebrated its 150th birthday Tuesday, and Park Service leaders took the opportunity to honor Yellowstone's first stewards.

While it has been 150 years since President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act, Native Americans have been caring for the land long before the U.S. government got involved.

"Native peoples have cared for these lands since time immemorial, using traditional ecological knowledge gained over thousands of years," National Park Service Director Chuck Sams, the Park Service's first Native American director, wrote in a letter. Sams comes from the Umatilla Indian Reservation in northeast Oregon. He is Walla Walla, Cayuse and Yankton Sioux on his father's side.

"These original stewards managed crops and animals for food, medicines, and tools, and performed controlled burns to prevent widespread fire and nurture plant and animal life. Today, we work alongside many Tribal groups in Yellowstone and other parks as we work to strengthen and respect Indigenous connections."

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Yellowstone National Park's Sunset Lake gets its vibrant hues from algae-like bacteria called Thermophiles.
Yellowstone National Park's Sunset Lake gets its vibrant hues from algae-like bacteria called Thermophiles.

At Old Faithful, the park is converting a structure near the visitor education center into a tribal heritage center, where tribal nations can display their artwork and cultural items for visitors to see, according to Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly.

In August, multiple tribal nations will participate in installing a temporary teepee village near the Roosevelt Arch where visitors can learn from tribal members. There will be various in-person and virtual events throughout this 150th year designed to educate visitors about the history of this "Home."

"So much of what most Americans call 'wilderness,' American Indians call 'Home,' " Sams said. Twenty-seven current tribes, including the Northern Cheyenne and Oglala Sioux, have historic ties to the lands that comprise Yellowstone.

"This isn't just about the last century-and-a-half," Sholly said in January. "We also want to use this anniversary to do a better job of fully recognizing the many American Indian nations that lived in this area for thousands of years prior to Yellowstone becoming a park."

Tribes with historic ties to Yellowstone lands, resources

Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Yellowstone National Park turns 150: Recognizing 'original stewards'