(Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo.) – Four eagles greeted the morning, flying above the spectators at Estes Park, Colorado. Their flight marked the beginning of the Arapaho celebration of the 100th year anniversary of a historic naming expedition to the Rocky Mountain National Park.
“It is a good omen,” Sergio Maldonado, one of the featured speakers said, “A good start to our celebration.”
The Arapaho tribe had been invited to the Rocky Mountain National Park to put on a presentation to honor their ancestor’s historic trek 100 years ago. Descendants and elders gathered to share their stories and culture at Bond Park in Estes Park, Colorado on August 8.
In 1914, the Colorado Mountain Club had invited two Arapaho elders from the Wind River Reservation to Estes Valley and the Grand Lake area to provide Arapaho names for local landmarks. It was an effort to help persuade Congress to support the establishment of a new national park and an effort that paid off when, one year later, Rocky Mountain National Park was formed using 30 of the Arapaho names the elders provided.
The historic pack trip began on July 16, 1914 and lasted two weeks with three members of the Northern Arapaho tribe, Elders Gun Griswald and Sherman Sage with their interpreter Tom Crispin, providing the Arapaho stories of their ancient hunting grounds. The story of their journey was recorded by Oliver Toll and preserved into a book, “Arapaho Names & Trails” in 1962 and reprinted in 2003.
On August 8, Luella Crispin, the granddaughter of the Arapaho interpreter, Tom Crispin opened the program with a prayer. The presentations mixed historical stories with oral traditions and included a welcome in Arapaho by language expert, Professor Andrew Cowell and short speeches by the Northern Arapaho Business Council. It ended with a presentation of the color guard and contemporary Native American dancing.
“This was much more than a community event – it was a tribute to our ancestors who gave us the place names for many areas in the Rocky Mountain National Park,” said Merle Haas, a storyteller and one of the organizers of the event. “It was a spiritual journey and meant a lot to us that our Elders were there to pray over our ancient hunting grounds.”
Since 1998, members of the Northern Arapaho have been on several sponsored trips to the Rocky Mountain National Park and have taken students, teachers and elders on tours of the Arapaho Pack Trip. The educational trips taught participants about the plants, wildlife, and their cultural heritage and ties to the area. This was the first time the Northern Arapaho tribe assisted in putting together a presentation that was free to the public and shared their ancestor’s story and connections to the region.
“It was an amazing experience,” said organizer Jola Wallowingbull, “It made me feel proud because our ancestors were a strong people.”
William C’Hair, the Master of Ceremonies of the event, summed up the presentation, “One of the reasons it is so important for our tribal members to go to the Park is to reaffirm our connection to the land and become closer to our ancestors.”
–Provided by Wind River Country, a County10 Community Partner