Nearly 145 years after the Fort Laramie Treaty signing between the U.S. government and the Plains Indian tribes, 3 tipis are erected in the national park to honor the native's presence.

 Nearly 145 years after the Fort Laramie Treaty between the U.S. government and Plains Indian tribes, a trio of Indian tipis now stands on the national park grounds where the tribes once encamped for the signing of the historic document.

The traditional Plains Indian dwellings were erected this summer at Fort Laramie National Historic Site in southeast Wyoming after a three day consultation with a dozen tribes historically associated with the fort. In late August, a sixth-generation descendant of one of the original Sioux Indian signers of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 returned to the park to direct staff in setting up the three tipis, now important symbols of the tribes’ long but little-known presence at the site.

The July 24-26 consultation brought 24 representatives from 12 tribes to Fort Laramie to help design an ethnographic research project. The project aims for better understanding, through collaboration with the tribes, of their cultural links with Fort Laramie through the years, so the park can depict the fort’s hitory accurately.

Until now, the park’s interpretation of Fort Laramie for visitors has centered on the post’s U.S. military history, with little or no historical presentation about the native tribes that lived, traded and negotiated treaties at the site. Native people inhabited the region for at least 14,000 years before the first European explorers arrived. Tribal people continued to live and trade at the frontier fort after it was established in 1834 and until it closed in 1890.

Among the first things that park visitors see when entering Fort Laramie are the ruins of barracks for troops. Now they also will see traditional Native American dwellings on the park skyline. “When we were considering how to symbolically re-establish the Native American presence here, we thought: What better way than with the traditional lodges in which Plains Indians once camped near the fort?” said Fort Laramie Superintendent Mitzi Frank.

The research project is being led by University of Montana cultural anthropologist Gregory Campbell through the Park Service’s Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit (CESU) partnership with the university. Staff from the Intermountain Region Office of Indian Affairs and American Culture also joined Campbell and the tribal representatives to facilitate the July meeting, which was led by Superintendent Frank.

During the July gathering, Fort Laramie staff members Steve Fullmer and Joe Reasoner escorted tribal representatives to numerous culturally significant locations in and around the park. The exercise became an eye-opener for all. “I’m really grateful you could take us to places where our grandfathers were and camped,” said Florentine Blue Thunder of the Rosebud Sioux tribe. “When we come, we feel a presence there. Whenever we go where our people have been, we feel their presence. I hope that you can take what has been said here and tell our story.”

The next month, James Iron Shell, also a member of the Rosebud Sioux, returned to erect the tipis. The mission was an important moment for Iron Shell, whose great-great-great grandfather, Chief Iron Shell, was the first to make his mark on the treaty. The tipis were set up in an area that visiting Indians once used as a campsite. In fact, that location is known to have been used during at least one of the council meetings of the original 1868 treaty commission.

The treaty is important to the Sioux tribes because it recognized the Black Hills of present-day South Dakota as part of the Great Sioux Reservation. But within a decade of its signing, great controversy followed as gold was discovered, and the Black Hills were overrun by non-Indian miners. Eventually, the U.S. Army removed the Sioux from their sacred mountains and confiscated the land in 1877. To this day, ownership of the Black Hills is in dispute.

The Fort Laramie tipis will remain on full display during the park’s summer season. In winter, their canvas coverings will be removed and stored to prevent damage in Wyoming’s frequent high winds. The tipi poles will remain standing year-round. Eventually, the park hopes to display a tipi for every one of the Indian nations and bands associated with Fort Laramie, each decorated with the traditional designs representing its tribe.

Plans for future consultations already are in the works to continue the dialogue and promote the telling of Native American history at Fort Laramie.

Contact Information Name: Mitzi Frank Phone Number: 307-837-2221 Email:

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