In celebration of the opening of Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park this week, members of the Blackfeet Tribe held an honoring ceremony.
Amid the peaks of the Continental Divide, Blackfeet men in full regalia sang an honoring song for Francis X. Guardipee, the first Blackfeet tribal member to serve as a National Park Ranger.
Blackfeet Tribal Business Council Chairman Harry Barnes told an assembled crowd of Guardipee’s descendants, park staff and tourists that Guardipee paved the way for the current generation of Blackfeet members working for the park.
"He had a heart for young people and children, and knew that they had to be taught and raised right. He engaged in that. That's what we need our leaders to do today," Barnes said.
This year, Glacier’s park passes feature Guardipee, who served as a ranger from 1930 to 1948.
Joy "Skeets" Wagner is Guardipee’s oldest living female relative. She told a story from her childhood about going to camp with Guardipee in Two Medicine.
"He brought us on nature hikes every day and he told us about all the plants, all the trees, and all of us were very bored with it. But now that I look back, I understand that he was such a beautiful person. Always, always beautiful."
Many of Guardipee’s descendants currently serve in the National Park Service. Lea Whitford, a Democratic Representative from Cut Bank and a Blackfeet tribal member, recognized them with plaques.
We've lived here as Blackfeet people for millenniums," Whitford said. "We've taken care of this landscape all that time. And we’ve done it very proudfully, and we were very diligent in being able to have this place that we call home."
She also shared stories of her time in the park, visiting places of historic and cultural importance to the Blackfeet people, and urged the crowd to enjoy Glacier.
"I hope that all of you continue to do that with your families," Whitford said. "Take your children out, take your grandkids out. Take your nieces and your nephews out. Most importantly, take your elders out, so that they too can experience this great landscape."
This summer, the Park will host speakers from the Blackfeet, Salish, Kootenai,and Pend d'Oreille tribes to talk about the tribes’ past and continued presence in Glacier as part of the Park’s Native America Speaks program. The Park is also supporting the Blackfeet Tribe’s effort to restore bison to their native range east of the divide.
Park Superintendent Jeff Mow says all of this is in an effort to bring visitors back to a time before Going-to the Sun Road, before cars, when visitors would take the train to get to Glacier.
"When they used to come to the park, any time they got off the train, there were the Blackfeet, there was the landscape," Mow said, "and the two always went together. Ever since the road came along and visitors came by their own cars, we’ve kind of lost that. So we’re looking for various opportunities where we translate that in a way that makes sense today."
Addressing the crowd, Mow thanked tribal members for their continued service and partnership with the park.
"Thank you, because this is your homeland, this is your landscape and I appreciate all the work you do on behalf of the millions of people who come here," Mow said.