Browse By

National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

Sorry guys. I accidentally deleted the disabled women athletes’ post twice tonight and I am so frustrated and angry at myself right now that its probably best for me to step away from the computer, before I lose my temper and throw the contraption outside.

So while I’m recovering my equilibrium, PBS has got a series called The National Parks: America’s Best Idea Their history is absolutely fascinating.

And I’d like to congratulate Rio on winning the bid for the 2018 Olympics. May they not be saddled with cost overruns, boondoggles and debt.

Um. On the subject of media? Did anyone watch Surrogates? What did you think about it?

EDIT on the subject of the National Parks.

So my rec was based on watching one episode of the miniseries. Which situation has boomeranged on me. Cause I started watching others over the weekend. And as my commenters here have pointed out, it is a VERY whitewashed series. Its all about the doings of rich white people. Not a word about Native American land, a lot of which was expropriated for the parks. Not a word about any agreements which may have been made between the US gov’t and the tribes. It is not surprising, therefore that a certain Christian-centric tone pervades the documentary. This is gods country, a miracle of god, these vistas are like cathedrals etc etc. And, well I just found this:Indian Country, God’s Country :Native Americans And The National Parks

The mythology of “gifted land” is strong in the Park Service, but some of our greatest parks were “gifted” by people who had little if any choice in the matter. Places like the Grand Canyon’s south rim and Glacier had to be bought, finagled, borrowed – or taken by force – when Indian occupants and owners resisted the call to contribute to the public welfare. The story of national parks and Indians is, depending on perspective, a costly triumph of the public interest, or a bitter betrayal of America’s native people.

In Indian Country, God’s Country historian Philip Burnham traces the complex relationship between Native Americans and the national parks, relating how Indians were removed, relocated, or otherwise kept at arm’s length from lands that became some of our nation’s most hallowed ground. MORE

*sigh* Yeah. So therefore, take that as a dis-recomendation of Ken Burn’s whitewashed series.

10 thoughts on “National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”

  1. says:

    I saw the first twenty minutes of that National Parks documentary, and was irked by how often they referred to Nature as being a miracle of God, but were only using the Christian God in comparison. Comparing things to cathedrals and churches, as though the Native American concept of spirituality in nature could not have been referenced instead.

    1. unusualmusic says:

      you are quite right, as I discovered over the weekend. *sigh* Catch me reccing a series based one one episode again. :/

  2. DigitalCoyote says:


    That didn’t really surprise me.

    When I was at Yosemite this summer, they had all these lists of “firsts” that happened in the valley. They certainly weren’t referring to the female Ahwahneechee population with “the first women” to visit the valley; most everything else didn’t involve the tribe either.

    The natives and the things that were done to them in order for this park to exist were hardly mentioned. The official park service story is all about John Muir and how the valley had to be “saved” from cattle ranchers. Ken Burns’ latest piece perpetuates this version of history.

    1. unusualmusic says:

      oh dear. *Sigh* and this teaches me not to rec anything based on one episode again.

      1. DigitalCoyote says:


        If it makes you feel better, I had really high hopes for the series, too. I think this was the first television program that I was excited for in a very, very, very long time. I thought that Ken Burns would be more even handed based on how he treated the stories of non-white people in “Jazz” and “Baseball,” but even those were criticized as being fraught with factual errors and Burns’ classicism and cultural elitism.

        One of the things that got me while I was at Yosemite was the story of a woman who had lived there as a child, until they forced her tribe out, but returned as an adult. She talked about how “dirty” it looked in the valley because the all-knowing park service people had stopped the controlled burns; trees and other kinds of vegetation were allowed to overrun the meadows. I had to agree with her when I got outside and looked around again.

        I would still like to see more of our country’s park system, but I would like to go with someone who could tell the story of the people of the area. I want to know the names of the places, not what some Johnny Come Lately settler decided to call it because their original names weren’t “proper.” I want to know who lived there and how they lived and how their history or culture changed because a park was placed on top of their home.

        I fear, however, that doing so would render me one of those icky cultural tourist types.

  3. osiyo says:

    I refuse to step foot in them.

    1. unusualmusic says:

      I still want to visit them, but I suppose I will have to read up on the true story.

  4. Dash says:

    Thank you for posting about this topic. I did not have time to catch the documentary, but I heard the ad on the radio for it, and was seriously bothered by it. America’s “best idea”? You mean making the decision NOT to subject all land to ownership/”development” (environment destruction/exploitation…) is this country’s “best idea”? (If it is, that’s kinda scary!)

    It also felt like they were implying that whole “this land was made for you and me” thing, where “you and me” does not include the people who had been inhabiting it for many thousands of years, who were evicted/killed by this “you and me” (to “make room for” this “you and me.”) And made = “made by the Christian God,” of course, so of course it was made for white people to inhabit.

    So this leaves wealthy white men taking the credit for apportioning certain regions of this (stolen/invaded/coerced away) land not to be “developed,” after all said land was (naturally) all “rightfully taken” from the Indians under Manifest Destiny (and this is OK since the Indians weren’t really using it anyway, which is still used TO THIS DAY to dispossess native peoples).

    These wealthy white men helped preserve God’s creations! Without them, none of this beauty would still exist! /applause/ (The scary part is, I wonder if that very last part might be true.) Now they can charge people admittance! The Indian presence on this land, and role in the story, is erased.

    Indian erasure is deeply prevalent where I live. It sometimes feels like I am living in some alternate, Orwellian universe where opposites are presented as truths and no one is supposed to question the absurdity of that. For example, I passed a sign the other day on a nearby town line. It began, “This region was first settled in 1634…” Excuse me? This land was first “settled” many thousands of years ago, but by a trick of semantics, “settlement” of the region cannot exist without white people. The “history” is presented as if pre-colonial history simply does not exist, at all, and never has. Before the late 1500s is actually explicitly referred to as “prehistory.” (And it’s Orwellian logic under which it can be the “late Middle Ages” in Europe and “prehistory” over here at exactly the same moment.)

    No wonder, then, that Indians can be erased from the story of the National Parks. (Mt. Rushmore, anyone?)

    Part of me wants to visit the National Parks, but I think I might just be too sickened by the way the story is (mis)told (like the examples DigitalCoyote described above).

  5. Stephanie says:

    I watched the whole thing. While I do agree with your points about American Indian Erasure etc, I also think they addressed that in the show. Also the development of the parks was a product of the times in which it happened. The people who provided for them, wrote about them and supported them at the time they were developed were overwhelmingly white, male and yes Christian. BUT Burns did make an effor to inlcude other voices, such and the female journalist and AA man who worked to get Key Biscanyne made into a Park. He donated all his family’s land which makes up a great part of the park. They had an AI park supreintendent discuss the view point of the land grab from his perspective and the greatness of the parks as well. They also did spend some time talking about how weatlhy white men bought HUGE tracks of land and preserved it for everyones future use instead of saving it only for themselves. Yes, at the time they probably thought white people only, but my AA family has spent a huge portion of time visiting National Parks. After my father’s death my mom took my brother and I across country by bus for 6 weeks to see them. As a result I have seen most of the big parks. I am frankly glad those White men had the foresight to do what they did. Even if they did it for the wrong reason, I and my family have and continue to benefit from their vision.

    Other fact about the role of minoirites in the parks development include: Almost a full episode discussing how the whole philosphy of conservation of wildlife in the parks was the brain child of a latino man. Who was appointed head of the wildlife division of the NPS in the early 1900’s.
    John Muir’s discussion of the use of Buffalo Soldiers to protect the parks. How ingenious they were in their strategies and how grateful he was to them, because with out their protection many of the most famous parks would have been destroyed beyond the ability to recover them.
    How the sec Interior decreed that there would be no segregated facilities in the CCC camps in the south.
    How the parks also transitioned from just preserving scenery to inlcude cultural and historical sites as well including slave quaters, AI ruins, battelfields and homes of famous American such as MLK etc.
    There were many other examples
    So yes I agree that the founding of some of the parks was a huge crime, but to throw them all out does a great disservice to all the people who are now served by them and benefit from them. They might not be our best idea, but they are a great one and we were the first country to do it.

    1. Dash says:

      Thank you for your long and thoughtful reply. It is a helpful reminder to me that history is always complex and that I should dig deeper into the complexities of the facts and perspectives, of any situation, past and present, before painting it with a sweeping brush. Thank you. You are right also that even actions taken for the wrong reasons can end up having good results. Oh, the ironies!

Comments are closed.