In the SPIRIT of the LAW.
"When Congress passed the enabling legislation in 1931, it wrote in the wrong year," says battlefield Assistant Superintendent Chuck Smith. It was actually three years earlier, in 1754, that George Washington, a 22-year-old aide-de-camp to British General Edward Braddock, surrendered to the French on this site in the battle that opened the French and Indian War.
Even correcting the date, Smith says, "If we just stuck to our enabling legislation and focused on that one battle, visitors would say, `So what?' We try to bring that battle and the French and Indian War into historical context as the beginning of the American Revolution. The legislation is just a start."
Fort Necessity is at the forefront of putting the spirit as well as the letter of the law into practice in the 136 National Park Service (NPS) units in the 16 Eastern seaboard states that comprise more than a third of all the parks. NPS has always been charged with protecting and preserving natural and historical sites of national significance. Now its new Comprehensive Interpretive Plan (CIP) encourages individual parks to jump from their often-narrow enabling legislation into broader approaches to history and culture.
"We spent lots of 1997 and 1998 promoting the CIP," says Pat Gillespie, NPS Northeast Region interpretive planning specialist. "Fully half the parks in the Northeast--the figure is one-third nationwide--have the CIP completed or under way."
NPS began holding meetings in 1995 to redefine "interpretation."
"Our purpose is not just to convey the `official version' of history, but to facilitate a connection between park visitors and park resources. Interpreters are catalysts to help visitors find meanings of their own," says Sandra Weber, NPS cultural resources interpretive specialist.
Following the CIP concept, "we completely overhauled the training curriculum for interpreters," Weber says. "It was not from the top down, but peer-directed. A few interpreters have trouble not seeing themselves as purveyors of `the truth,' but generally the new training has been phenomenally successful."
Parks like Fort Necessity have embraced the new approach. "The major part of our story is the 1754 battle," says Superintendent Joanne Hanley. "But the theme in our new visitor center will be cultures coming into conflict for the control of a continent--French, English, and Native Americans battling for the Forks of the Ohio, where Pittsburgh is today."
In 1999, for example, ranger M. J. McFadden organized the first annual Queen Alliquippa weekend festival, named for a Seneca matriarch of the time. Events included reenacting the June 1754 council in which Washington exhorted some 100 Indian representatives to "take up the hatchet against the French." McFadden also has developed a slide show in which she tells the story of the war from the Indian perspective.
Visitors to Fort Necessity might also meet Herb Clevenger, an interpreter of Shawnee, Seneca, Cherokee, and German heritage. Clevenger dresses as a Shawnee of the 1750s, in wool loincloth, leggings, moccasins, and a burgundy or yellow raw silk shirt. With his head shaved in Mohawk style, he resembles his ancestors who participated in the war.
"I'm trying to dismiss some of the myths and stereotypes about Indians," he says. "But I also use native culture to talk about the early fur trade and its impact on native people."
While finishing his degree at a local college as a "late life college student," Clevenger, now 45, helped start a park internship program for students in Native American Studies. Interns who have worked with him have continued in interpretation at various other sites or gone on to graduate school, but getting more American Indian staff into the Park Service is a slow process.
Although Fort Stanwix in New York has involved the Oneida and other area tribes in the current CIP and General Management Plan processes with good success, when the park announced staff vacancies, no Indians applied. Fort Stanwix is now working on a nation-to-nation memorandum of understanding with the Oneida to work jointly on park planning and programs.
But at least a dozen other Indian nations--including the other five that were in the 18th-century Six Nations Iroquois Confederation--share history with the fort, built in 1758 during the French and Indian War.
"There are many sensitive issues," says Mike Kusch, chief of visitor services. "We have to tell a holistic story here at the park so we don't offend anyone, and yet be able to have those nations come to tell their sides of the story."
Attention to the full story was not always a concern. When a replica of the fort, which had burned down in 1781, was built for the Bicentennial in 1976, Kusch says, "its interpretive program was envisioned to provide living history--21 days during the Revolutionary War--from the viewpoint of the white defenders." That interpretation ignored that a third of the besieging force was Indian, and made no mention of six treaties with Indian nations that were negotiated at the site.
"It was very Eurocentric," Kusch says. "Very white-oriented. I got here in 1996 and the superintendent said, `We have a fort mentality here. We can't see beyond the walls. I want to break the walls down.' I started looking at the bigger picture."
Looking at the bigger picture for many parks has often meant, as at Forts Necessity and Stanwix, expanding interpretation to include American Indian history.
"If we are an educating agency," says Patricia Parker, chief of the National Park Service American Indian Liaison Office in Washington, "part of our duty is to educate about people whose aboriginal land is in our parks. It includes giving a rich, true, and deep description of them now. It can't be an anthropological fiction that Indian culture stopped when whites took control of Indian homelands."
In the last decades, says Parker, "we have seen a renaissance in Indian country--cultural, political, and economic. Tribes are demanding a greater presence in national parks, especially if the park includes their homelands." She counts the renaissance as a factor in the new expanded Park Service views of American Indian culture.
Tony Paredes, NPS Southeast region chief of ethnography and Indian affairs, says interest in American Indian culture "comes in cycles. We're riding a crest. It's true, `Out of sight, out of mind.' Now Indians are not quite so out of sight."
The general public has a poor understanding of North American life prior to European contact, especially in the East, notes NPCA Northeast Regional Director Eileen Woodford. Information exists, she says, but "we've put it in academic archaeological terms, and it's not accessible to the public. Now the NPS is making it relevant to the broad face of America. The Comprehensive Interpretive Plan is allowing each park to say what is the message. It's the biggest thing to come along in the NPS since the Bicentennial, and that affected only a few parks."
Woodford points to Morristown in New Jersey and Colonial national historical parks and George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Virginia. When they were established in the early 1930s, "they presented a Yankee blueblood version of history," she says. "Now they are intellectually vibrant places that have expanded their vision."
In Florida, ranger Paul Carson has been part of expanding the vision at De Soto National Memorial since he arrived in mid-1999. "The only thing that had anything to do with Indians" at that time, he says, "was a small case of artifacts on loan that were not related to De Soto. The park movie shown in the visitor center gave the impression that the Spanish were walking through and the Indians were just there."
Now the memorial's new exhibits, film, and brochure reflect recent archaeology and historical research on De Soto's 4,000-mile route through the Southeast and the numerous native peoples he met.
"De Soto was the last of the conquistadores, not primarily a colonizer," Carson says. "He had in mind to find tribes similar to the Aztecs or the Incas whose gold, silver, and jewels he would take. In many ways, he was looking for Indians. You can't tell the story without the Native American side."
Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts also has experienced major changes since it was established in 1978 to interpret the Industrial Revolution. The enabling legislation mentions immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With its new CIP, however, the park's vision now covers environmental and Indian history on the Merrimack River before industrialization and includes late-20th century immigrants from Southeast Asia.
Last spring, Lowell was the site of a public forum that drew 75 people from the community. The meeting was convened by park Superintendent Patrick McCrary with the help of NPCA's National Parks Community Partners Program, which grew out of a national conference, the first devoted to the challenges of race and diversity in America's national parks. The objective is to make the National Park System available to a wider range of the American public.
The first five community partners groups were established in Boston, Washington, D.C., Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles in 1999. In March 2000, NPCA's community partners worked with Superintendent McCrary to plan and implement the Lowell Community Forum.
"We convened a public forum of 75 people from all of Lowell's communities, including Indians," says McCrary. "Some of the Indians--their Algonquin ancestors were pretty well swindled out of their lands--said, `Forget the immigrants. What about us?'
"We're saying that Lowell, by its very history, must tie in the Native American connection. The park is definitely looking at the cultural diversity in the community today. We want people to visit the park and want to come back, to say `I learned something here. It was about me and my culture and my family.'"
In fact, the new NPS directives focus not only on Indians but on other minorities with a presence at parks. In Colonial National Historical Park, more expansive historical interpretation includes area Indians, slaves, indentured servants, and African-American and Hessian soldiers as well as English colonizers. Fort Matanzas National Monument in Florida, though established to preserve a Spanish fort built in 1740-42, also is where the United States held Apache, Kiowa, and Comanche people prisoners of war in the late 1800s and early 1900s following the Indian Wars in the West.
Like all these examples, most parks are trying to be more inclusive, but the ultimate problem is money.
"We're trying to tell all the story," says Karen Rehm, chief historian at Colonial National Historical Park, where visitors are increasing but staff is down to 90 from 125 in 1981. The park recently completed its CIP and Long Range Interpretive Plans for Jamestown and Yorktown. "We're also beginning contact with Virginia Indian tribes," Rehm says. "We're doing what research we can, but research money is scarce. We only have so many people, and there are only so many hours in a day."
New exhibits or visitor centers--only a few have been funded, such as the one under way at Fort Necessity--also are costly. Instead, many parks are putting extensive information on their web sites (see box below).
"Exhibits and films can be woefully out of date," says NPS Chief Historian Dwight Pitcaithley. "It's not because we don't know better, but the funds can't keep up with the need. Putting information on the web is a lot cheaper than revising a visitor center."
Most of the park enabling legislation was passed decades before "web site" was even part of the language. Likewise, "our cultural sensibilities have changed," says Pitcaithley. "We take the legislation we've got at the beginning and exert our professional responsibility. We do a fair amount of interpretation of native people in many of the cultural and natural parks, and most of it is not identified in the enabling legislation."
Says Frank McManamon, NPS chief archaeologist, "Every park has more resources than the legislation mentions. We're obliged to care for all these kinds of resources. It's a question of what you do first, and how much."
The days of overlooking Indians--and other minority groups--are gone. And token mentions won't do. Says Colonial's Rehm: "It's not a matter of `doing Indians' or `doing African Americans.' It's got to be wrapped up in the actual events. No `Oh, by the way.' No afterthoughts, no trivializing."
"Oftentimes, especially at older parks, there was a specific view of history confined to dead white guys," says NPCA's Woodford. "The story of some of those white guys is incredibly important, but we have a more expansionist view of history today."
RELATED ARTICLE: "Parks and the Internet"
Most national park units have web sites. Some include extensive research reports and special information. Access the national site at www.cr.nps.gov. Access most individual parks with the first four letters of the park's name or the first two letters of each of the first two words. Examples: Colonial National Historical Park is at www.nps.gov/colo. Fort Necessity National Battlefield is at www.nps.gov/fone.
SALLY-JO KEALA-O-ANUENUE BOWMAN is a Hawaiian freelance writer specializing in native topics. She last wrote for National Parks about the Nez PerceWar in "From Where the Sun Now Stands" January/ February 1999.
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|Title Annotation:||Fort Necessity National Battlefield, United States National Park Service|
|Author:||BOWMAN, SALLY-JO KEALA-O-ANUENUE|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2001|
|Previous Article:||The CORE of the Matter.|
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