Management Change at Madison Buffalo Jump means continued denial of Native American History in Montana.

Posted: January 14, 2013 by extremehistory in Uncategorized
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January 9, 2013, Livingston, Montana. We at the Extreme History Project have become concerned over the current issues regarding Montana Heritage sites and education. Part of our mission as a public history organization, seeking to make history relevant for community, policy and society, is to inform the public on matters we feel put current heritage preservation in jeopardy. We are concerned about the issue surrounding the future management of the Madison Buffalo Jump.

An ongoing discussion between the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department (FWP) and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) may have significant consequences for the access and education of Native American History at the Madison Buffalo Jump site near Three Forks. In 2008, the DNRC discovered that it had majority ownership of the property, which contains the buffalo jump. Because this ownership is situated on school trust lands, the DNRC proceeded to request backdated annual lease fees of $4,272 (plus 2% annual increase) from FWP who had been managing the historic site since 1967. The FWP has responded by suggesting that management of the site be transferred to the DNRC and is now taking public comment on the issue through January 31.

Fish Wildlife and Parks has expended and average of $15,192 per year, since 2008, in personnel and operations for the site. The site improvements that this money has paid for include parking areas, interpretive signage and a pavilion from which visitors can oversee the site. Families, groups and schools have all made use of these facility and educational improvements to the site. Over the years, these improvements have greatly aided in the public’s understanding of the significant pre-settlement Native American story that this buffalo jump represents.

Sources at the DNRC suggest that there would not be the same level of funding for maintenance and education at the site if the property would revert back to its control. Though the site would still be accessible to the public, the interpretive panels and pavilion would most likely be removed, as there would be no funds to maintain them, no additional interpretation would be added and the land itself would be leased for grazing.

During a recent discussion with Extreme History staff, Bill Yellowtail, former State Senator and Crow Tribal member, noted, “I have great admiration for the Parks division in their presentation and preservation of Montana heritage and I have nothing against the DNRC, but they have a different mission.”

Dr. Shane Doyle, Crow tribal member and Professor in the Native American Studies Department at MSU Bozeman, expressed his concern for this administrative transfer. “This not only represents a denial of American Indian History, it’s the denial of the very nature of the land on which we live. It is an attempt to erase history and deny the livelihood of 3000 years of subsistence, a legacy we have inherited directly. We are lost in time and space without that anchor, denying our kids the ability to envision themselves in that time and place.”

In their press release about this issue, the FWP states that the site has “invaluable cultural resources” but suggests that as the First Peoples Buffalo Jump near Ulm is also in the Park system, the Madison site may be redundant. Doyle, who is also a board member for The Extreme History Project, refutes this argument. “Every jump is unique due to its proximity to natural resources. The First Peoples Buffalo Jump represents a more seasonal occupation where people lived year round at the Madison site. The Madison site is also close to chert quarries. The Madison Buffalo Jump site is important to understand the living landscape which sustained people for thousands of years.”

The safety of the site concerns archaeologist Dr. Craig Lee of MontanaStateUniversity’s Anthropology Department. “The cultural remains at the site are considerable and significant. Grazing on the property has the potential for great destruction of this cultural heritage.” Lee was also concerned about the lack of consideration for American Indian history in this move. “Interpreting two buffalo jump sites out of the five hundred plus buffalo jump sites across the State grossly under represents this significant historical and cultural phenomenon.”

Changing management of the Madison Buffalo Jump from the State Parks division to the DNRC would significantly reduce the opportunities for public access and education about the site, put the cultural resources, called “invaluable” by the FWP in jeopardy due to leasing the grazing rights, and by doing so, dishonor and disrespect the significant pre-settlement history of Montana’s indigenous people who also have a right to be represented in Montana’s protected and interpreted parks.

The Montana State Parks division will be taking public comments on the issue through January 31 in order to understand what the public thinks of this shift in management for the Madison Buffalo Jump. The public can learn more about the issue and comment on the state park’s website at or mail comments to Madison Buffalo Jump Comments c/o Montana State Parks PO Box 200701 Helena, MT 59620-0701. The Extreme History Project greatly encourages you to make your voice heard on this issue

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