Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Discover American Indian Heritage at Badlands National Park

November 13, 2009, 8:06 am
The stunning panorama of Badlands National Park rests just an hour east of Rapid City, South Dakota.

This 244,000-acre landscape is both barren and beautiful. Wind and rain erosion have created an eerie moonscape of deep gorges and jagged sawtooth ridges with rock layers painted in subtle hues of sand, rose, gold and green.
 
Bison (aka buffalo) were reintroduced here almost 50 years ago, and the park also offers critical habitat for pronghorn, bighorn sheep, coyote, deer and rattlesnakes, as well as eagles, hawks and turkey vultures which can be seen soaring above. For millennia, American Indians used this sacred land, which provided both physical and spiritual sustenance, as hunting grounds.
 
In fact, American Indians have had a presence in the area now known as the Badlands for more than 11,000 years.  The little-studied paleo-Indians arrived first, followed by the Arikara. Archaeological records combined with oral traditions indicate that the Arikara people camped in secluded valleys where fresh water and game were available year round. Eroding out of the stream banks today are the rocks and charcoal of their campfires, as well as the arrowheads and tools they used to butcher bison, rabbits, and other game. From the high ground of the Badlands Wall, a ridge that cuts through the present-day park, they could scan the area for enemies and wandering herds. If hunting was good, they might stay through winter, before retracing their way to their villages along the Missouri River.
 
By 150 years ago, the Great Sioux Nation, consisting of seven bands including the Oglala Lakota, moved into the area. They found the Arikara and forced them northward into present-day North Dakota where the Arikara are now known as one of the Three Affiliated Tribes, joining in confederation with the Mandan and Hidatsa peoples.
 
The Sioux Nation is made up of three linguistic groups: the Nakota who make their home in Minnesota, the Dakota who range from western Minnesota into eastern South Dakota, and the Lakota, the furthest western group. “Oglala” is one of seven bands within the Lakota linguistic group. After the introduction of the horse, these westernmost Sioux became master equestrians and continue this tradition today.
 
Fiercely proud of their warrior heritage, the Lakota produced such great leaders as Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Bigfoot, and Spotted Tail. To the Lakota, the Badlands were far from bad. They competed with grizzly bears and coyote in their hunt for bison, pronghorn, elk and other game that roamed the Badlands at will.
 
The next great migration came toward the end of the 19th century as homesteaders moved into South Dakota. The United States government stripped American Indians of much of their territory and forced them to live on reservations. Ongoing struggle between the United States military and American Indians eventually led to the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek. Before it was over, nearly 200 American Indians and 30 soldiers lay dead.
 
Wounded Knee is located approximately 45 miles south of Badlands National Park on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The United States government and the Oglala Lakota Nation have agreed that the story of Wounded Knee is a story to be told by the Oglala of Pine Ridge and the Minneconjou of Standing Rock Reservation. The interpretation of the site and its tragic events are held as the primary responsibility of these survivors. Learn more at the Wounded Knee Museum.
 
In 1976, Badlands National Park established a partnership with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, sharing lands, specifically the South Unit, and splitting entrance fees. Today 50 percent of the fees collected in the park are transferred to the tribe for resource management and recreation projects. The South unit contains many sites sacred to the Oglala Lakota and other American Indian cultures.  Please show respect by not touching or removing objects tied to trees and shrubs. All artifacts must be left in place.