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The Timbisha Shoshone and the National Park Idea: Building toward Accommodation and Acknowledgment at Death Valley National Park, 1933–2000 Mark Miller In the early 1970s, tourists flocked to the lavish Furnace Creek Inn in the heart of Death Valley National Monument. With its swimming pools, palm-shaded gardens, and fine dining, the hotel seemed every bit the American version of an Arabian oasis. At the resort, visitors could enjoy the austere desert beauty of Death Valley without experiencing true discomfort or unpleasant encounters with the unforgiving landscape. Patrons of the inn, located near the monument headquarters at Furnace Creek, California, commanded a sweeping view of the snowcapped Panamint Range and white salt flats of the valley floor, a scene framing gray and beige uplands to the west. If visitors strained their eyes, they also could see a small collection of adobe casitas and ramshackle trailers on the southwest edge of the park complex. Although not marked on tourist maps, the hamlet was “Indian Village,” home to the Timbisha Shoshone, the original inhabitants of Death Valley. At the time, the Shoshone enclave was an anomaly in the National Park System; federal officials had removed other native groups from western parks. As such, the village was at the center of a brewing conflict between the National Park Service (NPS) and the Shoshone over the very existence of the enclave, with each party holding decidedly different views of native presence on federal parklands. As the 1970s progressed, Indian Village was important to debates over the proper place of native groups in national parks, what constituted wilderness and “natural” land uses, and conceptions of stewardship, resource management, and preservation. In 2000, the Death Valley conflict ended in an unprecedented way—with the NPS recognizing the Shoshone’s traditional land uses, and more importantly, Mark Miller is assistant professor in the Department of History at Southern Utah University, in Cedar City. Journal of the Southwest 50, 4 (Winter 2008) : 415–446 416  ✜  Journal of the Southwest acknowledging their right to live within the park itself. For the first time in its long history, the NPS agreed to create an Indian reservation within the boundaries of a national park. The Shoshone conflict with the NPS represents a significant chapter in the evolution of public policy toward Native American land uses within national parks. Standard works on the nation’s parks by Alfred Runte and Roderick Nash detail how the nineteenth-century “national park idea” coalesced around the goal of preserving uninhabited, seemingly pristine wilderness. Important recent studies by Mark David Spence, Philip Burnham, Robert H. Keller, and Michael F. Turek, show that the Park Service’s secret history was that these seemingly untouched environments were predicated upon Indian removal beforehand and exclusion afterward. As historian Spence concludes, when officials evicted the last Miwok tribesman from Yosemite Valley in 1969, it brought the park in line with the “standards of the national park idea.”1 Although path-breaking works on Indians and parks contain brief discussions of the Timbisha Shoshone, the following pages provide a fuller picture of the anomalous state of affairs at Death Valley National Park, a NPS unit that, unlike nearby Yosemite, never conformed to the national park idea. Whereas existing scholarship on Indian communities and the NPS largely focuses upon reservation tribes, their removal, and their generally fruitless battles to regain lands held by the NPS, the Shoshone case reveals a non-reservation, unrecognized tribe that remained on its aboriginal lands and, through decades of struggle, ultimately regained portions of its homeland. Beyond the specifics of local history, this article expands existing scholarship by revealing a growing trend in Native American–Park Service relations. As this story demonstrates, federal officials more and more are acknowledging that indigenous land-use practices are not inherently detrimental to park landscapes and may actually provide benefits to ecosystems that have been affected by human management for thousands of years. Ethnobotanists M. Kat Anderson and David E. Ruppert argue that traditional Native American management techniques should be utilized in restoring and sustainably managing environments once perceived as pristine.2 In this vein the Timbisha example seems to confirm that the NPS is moving toward a model envisioned...


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pp. 415-445
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