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National parks connected to Native Americans

Yosemite’s Mewak Village, courtesy NPS

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite, California
With evidence of a native presence dating back more than 9,000 years, the Native American legacy is an important part of Yosemite National Park’s history. Most of the names around the park are derived from Native American words; for example, Lake Tenaya is named after one of the Paiute chiefs, and the Ahwahnee Hotel is named after the Ahwahnee Indians. The name Yosemite is an American Indian name given to the area to describe the fear-inducing tribes that roamed the countryside; it translates to “those who kill.”

“There’s a lot of everything from archaeological sites and burial sites of Native Americans to villages and a lot of the current cultures,” said Scott Gediman, assistant superintendent for public and legislative affairs at Yosemite National Park. “In fact, we have seven Indian tribes in and around Yosemite that we work with and [that] have a cultural affiliation with the park.”

From a working Mewak Village with cultural demonstrations and ceremonies to an elaborate visitors center showcasing the importance of the Native American heritage in the area, Yosemite offers numerous opportunities for groups to experience the history and culture of the region.

“For me, what I love is that Native Americans are such a huge part of the history of Yosemite, but even more than that, they are a huge part of the culture now,” added Gediman. “So one of my favorite parts about that is to see our demonstrators, most of whom are Native Americans themselves, being so willing to share their culture with visitors. It’s not just sterile history, where this happened a long time ago; it’s also part of the present-day Yosemite.”

Kristy Alpert

Kristy Alpert has traversed more than 50 countries in her quest to uncover stories for her outlets in Food & Wine, Men's Health, Group Travel Leader, American Way, and more. When she's not on the road, you can find her teaching yoga and exploring around her new home in Germany with her husband and her Boston Terrier, Tobias.