Origins. The PNV Project’s origins date from a conversation between a park ranger and Lloyd Burton, the director of the environmental law and policy program in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado, Denver. The conversation took place on the afternoon of summer solstice,1998 at [Bears Lodge] Devil’s Tower National Monument in northeastern Wyoming. The Euro-American ranger had just given an interpretive presentation on the spiritual significance of the Tower to the Plains tribes of the area. In this conversation, she remarked how much more meaningful such a presentation might be if it were made by member of one of the cultures who hold the place sacred.
From this conversation came the idea of training Native American college and university students whose tribes have a traditional cultural and historical relationship with national parklands in the intermountain West to work as cultural resource interpreters at those parks. In 2004, initial funding for the establishment of what would become the Place and Native Voice Project came from the Rocky Mountain Cooperative Ecosystems Unit, a program in which the National Park Service partners researchers at participating colleges and universities in the region (such as the University of Colorado Denver) with national parks, monuments, and historic sites in the region wanting assistance in doing research and program development.
The Place and Native Voice Project steadily expanded to more parks, monuments, and national historic sites each summer from 2005 through 2010, at which time the summer internship program was terminated, owing to congressionally imposed budget reductions for many discretionary programs. Since that time, the PNV website has been converted to serve as an online cultural resource interpretive program in support of those National Park Service sites in the Intermountain West which feature information about the indigenous cultural history of their site in their interpretive programs.
Training and Activities of PNV Interns, 2005-2010. Students were recruited into the Place and Native Voice Project by several means, including outreach from parks and monuments wanting a PNV intern to the governments and schools of tribes having a traditional cultural affiliation with the NPS units, outreach to potentially interested students by workforce enhancement staff at the NPS Intermountain Regional Headquarters, and by outreach to colleges and universities in the region by Professor Burton, who would become the academic director of the PNV Program.
Students were trained in the art and craft of interpretive program development and delivery by the interpretive staff at the national parks and monuments at which they were assigned to work. They received guidance in how to incorporate traditional cultural knowledge they had acquired from friends and family, elders, and others in their clan, tribe, or culture group into interpretive presentations they created, which appear on the PNV website as sections within chapters of Sustainability and the Sacred – an Anthology of Teachings on Indigenous Peoples and National Parklands in the Intermountain West.
In training students to prepare these presentations, they were carefully instructed to incorporate into their work only those teachings which their elders and others from whom they received such teachings authorized them to share outside the tribe. All tribes have some knowledge they freely share with outsiders and other knowledge that is to be held only within the tribe; and it was the intent of the PNV Project to share only the former. Students were also instructed that what they were doing was learning to tell aspects’ of their culture’s stories in their own voices, but that they were not acting as official spokespersons for either their tribe or their culture group.
In developing their projects and presenting them to visitors at the parks and monuments where they were stationed, these interns were able to convey knowledge of their culture’s relationship to our national parklands with an authenticity and personal perspective that would otherwise not have been possible in the interpretive programs they served. And for that service, all of us who participated in helping make the Place and Native Voice Project the success it was are enduringly grateful.
Lloyd Burton, Academic Director
Place and Native Voice Project, 2005-2011.
School of Public Affairs
University of Colorado Denver