National Parks & Their Beginnings as Indigenous Land

By Jack Ripley | April 3, 2024

Everglades National Park

We're on a journey through some of America's most cherished natural wonders, where the beauty of the land intertwines with the rich heritage of Indigenous peoples. As we venture into iconic national parks like Yosemite and the Everglades, we uncover stories that transcend time—tales of Indigenous communities who have nurtured and revered these lands for generations. Join us as we delve into the cultural tapestry woven into the landscapes, from ancient dwellings in the redwood forests to resilient communities in the Everglades. Each park offers a glimpse into the enduring bond between people and place, inviting us to honor the past, celebrate the present, and safeguard the future of these sacred lands. Let's embark on this enlightening journey together, embracing the wisdom and spirit of those who have cherished these landscapes for millennia.

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NPS (EVER 17420)

Everglades National Park, a sprawling expanse of wetlands in southern Florida, stands as a testament to both natural wonder and cultural heritage. This unique ecosystem, shaped by the slow flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico, has been home to Indigenous peoples for thousands of years. The Miccosukee and Seminole tribes, among others, have long inhabited these lands, relying on its rich resources for sustenance and spiritual nourishment. Despite facing challenges from colonization and development, the descendants of these Indigenous communities continue to honor their ancestral ties to the Everglades, preserving their cultural traditions and stewarding the land for future generations. Today, as visitors explore this remarkable wilderness, they are invited to not only marvel at its natural beauty but also to reflect on the enduring legacy of the Indigenous peoples who have called the Everglades home for countless generations.

Alcatraz Island and the Ohlone

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Photo by Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Alcatraz Island holds a profound history dating back over 20,000 years when Indigenous peoples utilized its shores for camping, food gathering, and seclusion. Among these early inhabitants were the Ohlone, who thrived in the coastal regions from San Francisco Bay to Point Sur. However, their existence was dramatically altered with the arrival of European colonizers in the 16th century, leading to the incorporation of many Ohlone into Mission San Francisco de Asis and the devastating loss of about 80 percent of their population due to disease and harsh conditions. Fast-forward to November 1969, Alcatraz became a focal point for Indigenous activism when members of the Indians of All Tribes, Inc. occupied the island, aiming to reclaim their ancestral space. This occupation, drawing national attention, symbolized a demand for justice and recognition of Indigenous rights. Messages of peace and freedom adorned the island's landscape as activists envisioned a cultural and educational center. Despite the eventual forcible removal of the Occupiers by federal marshals in June 1971, the Alcatraz occupation remains a pivotal moment in the ongoing struggle for Indigenous sovereignty and cultural preservation.