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Yosemite National Park (Calif.), Miwok Indians, The American Indian Council of Mariposa County


Several Native American communities assert traditional ties to Yosemite Valley, and special connections to the exceptional landmarks and natural resources of Yosemite National Park. However, tribal claims relating to this highly visible park with its many competing constituencies—such as tribal assertions of traditional ties to particular landscapes or requests for access to certain plant gathering areas—often require supporting documentation from the written record. Addressing this need, academic researchers, the National Park Service and park-associated tribes collaborated in a multi-year effort to assemble a comprehensive ethnographic database containing most available written accounts of Native American land and resource use in Yosemite National Park. To date, the database includes over 13,000 searchable and georeferenced entries from historical accounts, archived ethnographic notebooks, tribal oral history transcripts and more. The Yosemite National Park Ethnographic Database represents a progressive tool for identifying culturally significant places and resources in Yosemite—a tool already being used by both cultural and natural resource managers within the National Park Service as well as tribal communities considering opportunities for future collaborative management of their traditional homelands within Yosemite National Park. We conclude that the organization of such data, including inherent ambiguities and contradictions, periodically updated with data provided by contemporary Tribal members, offers a rich, multivocal and dynamic representation of cultural traditions linked to specific park lands and resources. Indeed, some Yosemite tribal members celebrate the outcomes as revelatory, and as a partial antidote to their textual erasure from dispossessed lands. In practice however, as with any database, we find that this approach still risks ossifying data and reinforcing hegemonic discourses relating to cultural stasis, ethnographic objectivity and administrative power. By critically engaging these contradictions, we argue that one can still navigate pathways forward—bringing Native voices more meaningfully into the management of parks and other protected spaces, and providing a template useful at other parks for collaboration toward shared conservation goals.


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