Idaho road signs updated with American Indian history



In mid-October, an empty frame is all that is visible from historic marker 302 atop Galena near Sun Valley.

High Country News

In September 1824, a Scottish schoolteacher turned fur trapper climbed to the top of a mountain overlooking the awe-inspiring Sawtooth Valley, near present-day Sun Valley. Historic Landmark 302 on Route 75 at Galena Summit now commemorates when Alexander Ross and his entourage first stood at the spot above the headwaters of the Salmon River. The sign proclaims that Ross “discovered” the summit before spending another month traveling “mostly through uncharted lands.”

The idea that Ross had “discovered” a place that had not previously been well traveled by Native Americans seems absurd, Tricia Canaday, Assistant in the State of Idaho’s Office of Historic Preservation. “Of course, indigenous groups have walked this road for millennia,” she said. Canaday took on the monumental task of working with the Five Tribes of Idaho to revise many of the 290 panels in the States Historic Marker System and possibly add new panels.

The stated goal of the initiative, Canaday said, is to rebalance Idaho’s roadside history with an Indigenous perspective and thereby create a more culturally sensitive and accurate picture of the past. historical plan. Each state in the United States appears to have its own standards and protocols for revising the language of road markers, she said, and her office is in charge of that in Idaho. As a result, Ross may soon be known to have “mapped” or “encountered” the Galena summit, rather than discovering it, Canaday said. It might seem like a small success, but it’s just one piece in a larger mosaic that could transform Idaho’s roadside history for generations to come.

Leading this effort alongside Canaday are tribal leaders like Nolan Brown, a home land researcher in the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Language and Culture Preservation Department at the Fort Hall Reservation. The revision of road markers is now part of its work, which since 2017 includes the creation of new interpretive panels and exhibitions around the state linked to its community. “Our main goal is to educate tribal members and the public and to publicize the history of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes and their continued presence in all of our home territories,” said Brown.

This original territory is vast and includes the lands crossed by Ross when he first crossed what is now known as Blaine County. Brown’s strategic approach is part of the Department of Language and Culture’s ongoing efforts to identify relationships with the Northwestern Band of Shoshone, Shoshone-Paiutes and others, such as the Boise Valley tribes. New information on the signs could include treaty-guaranteed hunting and gathering rights, as well as details of historic sites like Map Rock, a large boulder in Snake River Canyon near Boise that features elaborate petroglyphs created by the ancestors of the local Shoshone or Paiute nations, as well as the Lemhi reserve near Salmon, which was abandoned in a forced march known as the “Lemhi Trail of Tears” in 1907. Markers could also include information on traditional campsites, houses, original fisheries, original trails and battle sites.

First place: 27 signs in poor condition

Brown’s staff in the Language and Culture Department looked at the first group of 27 road signs that the Idaho Department of Transportation had offered to replace due to their declining condition. The Tribes plan to update five of them with completely new stories. Others just need to be revised. “A few signs like those for Lava Hot Springs, the Salmon River and others that we can’t wait to help rewrite,” said Brown, adding that he and his staff were excited about the work and the opportunity to. provide the tribal perspective and history that was previously lacking. The Salmon River sign, number 292, indicates that Lewis and Clark “discovered” the river. There is no mention of the indigenous people who fished for salmon during thousands of years on the river, nor the way the Shoshone-Bannocks worked for decades to save sawtooth sockeye from extinction.

Idaho’s 290 signs were installed in the 1950s without Indigenous input, often reflecting the zero land, or “vacant land,” a concept held by those who settled as a result of the doctrine of discovery, which had been used for centuries to allow European Christian immigrants to gain access to land in North America under the international law. But even Ross had no illusion that he was the first person to see the Sawtooth Valley, though for a while he seemed to have hoped he was looking at a new Garden of Eden.

“It probably seemed to us that no human being had ever walked this path before,” he wrote in his memoirs in 1856, “found a pheasant (grouse) with a fresh arrow in it and not yet dead. So by the time we were indulging in such an idea, the Indians could have been within fifty yards of us!

Boise’s wife sparked the effort

The stories of the state’s Indigenous nations, long ignored by both state education policies and road signs, may soon find a place where rubber hits the road in Idaho, thanks to tribal representatives and historians. The process is only just beginning and could take years, Canaday said. The pieces of story that might be moved in favor of others on the panels will depend on space constraints, Canaday said. “There is a strict word count allowed on each sign,” she said. Canaday said the highway marker revision project, which received funding of $ 700,000, would follow contributions from the state archaeologist and historian, as well as from the tribes. “We try to take a critical look at the stories we broadcast,” she said. The Shoshone-Paiute, Kootenai and Coeur d’Alene Nations have yet to respond to his consultation request.

Among those whom Canaday met was Nakia Williamson-Cloud, director of the cultural resources program of the Nez Perce tribe. Located north of the Shoshone-Bannock Territory, the Nez Perce are now based between the Snake and Clearwater Rivers, but, like most if not all tribal nations, they once had much larger territories that now rival place names. modern and historic. stories. In early July, Canaday and Williamson-Cloud had a three-hour meeting in Lapwai, on the Nez Perce reserve, where they sifted through the language of highway markers and reviewed Williamson-Cloud’s early advice on revisions. and historical errors and omissions. As a result, a big change could be the inclusion of Nez Perce or Nimiipuu language on certain signs. “Nakia knew the Nez Perce names for all the places up there,” Canaday said. Williamson-Cloud was reportedly interested in the Buffalo Pit freeway post, number 370, near Elk City, which commemorates a hydraulic gold mine that tore up a hill to access the riches below. “Nakia said this part of the river has been called ‘muddy water’ in the Nez Perce language ever since,” Canaday said. “We are considering adding this language to the sign because, from our point of view, it is an interesting historical notation to make.”

This long-awaited endeavor began with a suggestion from Marsha VanDeGrift, a Boise resident who was picnicking in 2019 with her husband near landmark number 75, which details the ‘neighborhood massacre’. The panel commemorates an 1854 attack on Alexander Ward’s group that resulted in military reprisals and the closure of Hudson’s Bay Company posts at Fort Boise and Fort Hall. It was part of a larger conflict in the region which came to be known as the Snake Wars.

The Ward Massacre sign states that only two young boys survived the attack and “eight years of Indian terror followed”. VanDeGrift contacted state offices and found them willing to consider changes. “I didn’t want my children or grandchildren to read such a one-sided description of an event,” VanDeGrift said. Soon, thanks to the work of Canaday, Williamson-Cloud, Brown, and others, they may not have to – at least not in Idaho.

Tony Tekaroniake Evans is an award winning journalist and author living in Hailey and a citizen of the Mohawk Nation.


Comments are closed.