The Problem With America’s National ParksThe Problem With America’s National Parks

The national-park system has been touted as “America’s best idea.” David Treuer, an Ojibwe author and historian, says we can make that idea even better—by giving national parks back to Native Americans.

“By virtue of the parks returning to Native control, I would like people, when they’re standing at the foot of El Capitan, to look up knowing they’re on Native lands, to look up knowing that they’re standing on the graves of Native people,” says Treuer, who grew up on the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota as the nearby Voyageurs National Park was being established. “I would like, when people look up at vistas, like at Yosemite or at Yellowstone, that they’d look up as a way to look back at the history of this country.”

Treuer, who wrote the book The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America From 1890 to the Present, says that Native Americans are too often precluded from using the land in culturally significant ways that go back millennia. In his essay for The Atlantic, he makes the case that the U.S. should return control of national parks to its Native people.

Further reading: “Return the National Parks to the Tribes”

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This episode was produced by Tracie Hunte and Gabrielle Berbey, with editing by Matt Collette and Katherine Wells. Fact-check by Jack Segelstein. Sound design by David Herman.

Music by Laundry (“Films”), Parish Council (“Socks Before Trousers” and “Heatherside Stores”), h hunt (“11e” and “Journeys”), and naran ratan (“Trees etc.), provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional music by John Charles Schroeder and Ross Taggart Garren (“Mournful Blues”) and Ken Anderson and Rebecca Ruth Hall (“Calliope – Underscore”). Additional audio from National Geographic, WNYC, PBS, and C-SPAN.