Mountains and Race (part 2)
Native Americans at Glacier National Park,
in The National Parks Portfolio (1917 and 1931 editions)
Rare Book Collection, E160 .U62
Conservation refugees are people who have lost their native land rights through the creation of national parks or wildlife sanctuaries. Around the world, such acts have been seen as prioritizing western values, including sports like hiking and mountaineering, over the needs of indigenous communities.
In the United States, the Blackfeet Indians became conservation refugees after the establishment of Montana’s Glacier National Park in 1910. Although the Blackfeet sold the land to the U.S. government, it was with the understanding that, as public land, they would retain access to it. Their traditional hunting, fishing, and timber rights, however, were gradually denied and park rangers made them feel unwelcome. According to author David Craig, the mountains were more than a source of food and supplies for the Blackfeet; they were also part of their cultural identity. Efforts to reestablish native rights to the park are ongoing.
John Muir, Our National Parks (1901)
Rare Book Collection, E160 .M95
Ansel Adams: Images, 1923-1974
Rare Book Collection, TR654 .A33 Oversize
Like the Blackfeet Indians of Montana, the Ahwahnechee of California’s Yosemite Valley were displaced from their ancestral homelands in part by Americans’ love of mountain scenery. The removal of Indians from the valley began in 1851 at the hands of miners and militia, but when Yosemite National Park was created in 1890, those who remained found no friend in John Muir. The father of the American conservation movement wanted to return the park to its primeval state, and, in his view, Indians had “no place in the landscape.”
However, as Mark Dowie has pointed out in Conservation Refugees (2011), Muir’s romantic image of Yosemite kept him from seeing that “Indians and their traditional land management practices had much to do with the valley’s appearance.” Through controlled burns, rotational gardening, and other techniques, they had enhanced its beauty. Photographer Ansel Adams, like Muir, found the Ahwahnechee an inconvenient truth and “fed the fiction by deliberately keeping nearby Indians out of his classic photos of pristine Yosemite wilderness.”
After years of conflict, the National Park Service evicted the last of Yosemite’s native inhabitants in 1969.
Lobby of Mount Baker Lodge,
in Mount Baker National Forest brochure (ca. 1930)
Special Collections, Campus History Vertical File (“Recreation”)
Women in Canoe at Mount Baker Lodge
Reproduced courtesy of the Whatcom Museum
Like many Western hotels, the Mount Baker Lodge, opened in 1927, was decorated with Native American motifs. The dramatic mountain setting also invited guests to “go native” in other ways, like paddling a dugout canoe in the hotel lake. Critics have scorned such uses of Native culture for masking social injustice and reaffirming white dominance through escapist fantasy.
David Starr Jordan, in Sierra Club Bulletin (February 1932)
Mountaineering Collection, F868 .S5 S5
Stanford University president David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) was one of the first Americans to climb the Matterhorn in Switzerland and was a founding member of the Sierra Club, California’s oldest mountaineering organization. The idea that the “strenuous life,” including activities like mountain climbing, was an antidote to contemporary fears about “over-civilization” and the supposed physical and moral decline of the white race found a willing ear in Jordan, a prominent eugenicist.
It was partly through Jordan’s influence that in 1909, Washington and California became the second and third states to enact forced sterilization of the mentally handicapped and others deemed unfit to reproduce.
Theodore Winthrop,The Canoe and the Saddle (1862)
Rare Book Collection, F852 .W79
The Great Myth—“Mount Tacoma”:
Mount Rainier and the Facts of History (1924)
Rare Book Collection, F897 .R2 O5
Issues of race and class are central to the long debate over what to call Washington’s highest peak. In 1792, English explorer George Vancouver rejected its native name, Tacoma, in favor of one honoring, or possibly poking fun at, his friend Admiral Peter Rainier, a big-bellied mountain of a man, as his portraits show. Seventy years later, in The Canoe and the Saddle, Theodore Winthrop—a descendant of Puritan governor John Winthrop, whose account of Darby Field’s 1642 ascent of Mount Washington with two Indian guides incidentally marks the beginning of American mountaineering literature—launched the ongoing struggle to restore the name Tacoma.
In the 1880s, the city of Tacoma, competing for commercial dominance with nearby Seattle, supported an official name change to draw attention to itself. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names entered the fray in 1892, and in 1899, Congress officially endorsed the name Mount Rainier. Historian Bruce Barcott writes that the struggle was about more than civic rivalry. “Despite the West’s reputation for rugged individualism, much of the real power in the territory’s early days was exercised by Eastern and Midwestern bankers, railroad tycoons, and lumber concerns… Changing the name to Mount Tacoma would have been a bold act of cultural reclamation, a proclamation that the mountain belonged to the people who lived with it, not to the British Admiralty and the geographic names board.”
Cecelia Svinth Carpenter, Where the Waters Begin:
The Traditional Nisqually Indian History of Mount Rainier (1994).
Mountaineering Collection, F897 .R2 C27
Carpenter, a member of the Nisqually tribe, writes that although some Indians lived on Mount Rainier’s slopes, they avoided its summit. “There were evil spirit forces up there and anyone daring to penetrate that area would be smitten dead.” Five native men accompanied Dr. William Tolmie, the first white man to attempt the summit, in 1833. All, including Tolmie, turned back.
Hazard Stevens and Philemon Beecher Van Trump made the first successful ascent in 1870 and were guided much of the way by Sluiskin, a Klickitat Indian, who was surprised when the men returned alive from the peak. Another native guide, So-To-Lic or “Indian Henry,” earned an enduring place in the mountain’s lore by providing directions, lodging, and supplies to early climbers, including John Muir, in the 1880s and 1890s.
Robert William Sandford, Called by this Mountain:
The Legend of the Silver Ice Axe and the
Early Climbing History of Mount Alberta (2000).
Mountaineering Collection, GV199.44 .C22 A52
English clergyman Walter Weston introduced recreational mountain climbing to Japan at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1905, the Japanese Alpine Club, based on the British model, was founded. The club’s first overseas expedition took place in 1925, when it sponsored the first ascent of Mount Alberta, one of the most challenging climbs in the Canadian Rockies. Yuko Maki, aide-de-camp to the Crown Prince of Japan, led the expedition.
Although it claimed to be open and democratic, the Alpine Club of Canada, in its early days, resisted admitting anyone not considered “the right sort.” This included Japanese climbers. When Shozo Kitada was nominated for membership in 1929, three prominent club leaders had to fight anti-Asian prejudice to see his application pass the vote. Success came only when they emphasized Kitada’s high social status in Japan, appealing to Anglo-Canadians’ standards of class and respectability.