Lakota Parks Director Gerard Baker, Mandan/Hidatsa, the Oglala Lakota Nation, and South Dakota: 'Good News in the Badlands'

ICTMN Staff
3/9/13

Hemispheres, a mainstream title and the inflight magazine of United Airlines, recently ran "Good News in the Badlands," an indepth feature by Brendan Borrell examining the contentious history between Lakota Country and the U.S. government, including the National Park Service.

"Over the past century, the relationship between the Oglala Lakota and the federal government has been uneasy at best," the article begins. "And it looked to stay that way—until a pair of brothers from an enemy tribe helped bring the two sides together, opening the door for a historic accord that could revolutionize how we think of national parks in America."

The Mandan-Hidatsa brothers referred to are Gerard Baker, former superintendent of Mount Rushmore National park, and Paige Baker, superintendent of Badlands National Park until retired in 2009--when Gerard took on the position.

"After Paige retired in 2009, it didn’t take long for the Lakota to connect with his brother—thinking, correctly, that Gerard would be an ideal bridge between the government and the tribe. He knew how to talk to Indians like an Indian; he knew how to write reports and file paperwork like a bureaucrat; and, as an outsider to the conflict, he could be objective in weighing the disparate voices on the reservation and brokering an agreement," writes Borrell.

"Last spring the Lakota hired Gerard Baker as interim executive director for the Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Authority. It was a timely hire: Three months later, the tribe signed an unprecedented accord with the National Park Service in which the latter agreed to give back the South Unit land—which, at 133,000 acres, makes up more than half of Badlands National Park. The tribe had weighed a number of options for the land, including scrapping the park designation completely or managing it as an independent tribal park, but decided instead to help create an entirely new breed of national park, one that would be run by the tribe but meet federal regulations."

Borrell goes on: "The next step is for Congress to formally designate the South Unit as an independent park. In the meantime—despite persistent complaints from members who’d rather see the land returned to the families who once lived there—tribal leaders are developing plans for a visitors center and studying the prospect of reintroducing bison (which currently live only in the North Unit). If the Oglala Lakota can prove themselves here, it opens the door to other tribes desiring greater involvement in parks set on former tribal lands."

To read the full article, click here.

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