Major Papers


America, United States, National Parks, Conservation, Environmentalism, Indigenous, Imperial, Empire


As the founders of national parks, the National Parks and National Park Service of the United States are monoliths on the global stage, inspiring all other national parks worldwide. Ever since the first park was created in 1872 at Yellowstone, Wyoming, people have been captivated by the idea of going into a land that is supposedly unspoiled by man. In a world where fossil fuels and industry are having extremely adverse effects on the global environment, the existence of land that has been set aside and protected is essential for global health. Yet, viewing national parks as institutions that are solely ecological neglects an important and foundational fact about them: they exist on Indigenous lands and benefit from the exploitation of Indigenous culture and practices.

The land that American settlers viewed as undeveloped and unused has been used for millennia by various Indigenous groups, long before the English colonized the East Coast. Human hands have shaped the land that early conservationists sought to protect from industrialization for centuries, and the pursuit of creating an untouched wilderness has led to the expulsion and extermination of Indigenous peoples. The parks are inspired by and rooted in colonialism, and it is a fact that must be reckoned with. At a time when environmental protection is so critical, understanding that the very institutions designed to protect them are not pristine but also, in some instances, have contributed to destroying both land and people is an important step for not only reforming the park system but also initiating a process of reconciliation and return to the land of those people expelled from the areas they once called home.

Primary Advisor

Rob Nelson

Program Reader

Gregg French

Degree Name

Master of Arts



Document Type

Major Research Paper

Convocation Year