As a land trust, we are deeply rooted in the land itself and the history it holds. Our work spans across Gallatin, Park, and Madison counties, a landscape with rich archeological and cultural history, giving us insight into life before our time. Only 50 miles from our office, an ancient child’s skull was unearthed near Wilsall, Montana, which has been dated to the native Clovis tribe who inhabited this area approximately 12,700 years ago (1). This incredible discovery gives light to the generations of Native people who traveled across, lived upon, enjoyed, and stewarded this valley for thousands of years before colonization. The Blackfeet Nation calls this area Aapistsisskitsaahko, which translates to “Valley of the Flowers.”
According to legend, this land was not to be fought over but shared (2). The Gallatin Valley, with its generous rivers, wildlife abundance, and soils was not claimed by any one Indigenous nation, but used by many seasonally, including the Apsáalooke (Crow), Tsetsêhesêstâhase & So’taa’eo’o (Northern Cheyenne), Sélish (Salish), Ksanka (Kootenai), Niitsitapi (Blackfeet), Lakota & Dakota (Sioux), Nimíipuu (Nez Perce), Bannock, and Shoshoni tribes (2). During early colonization less than 160 years ago, these tribes were displaced from their homelands and territories; the shared land was repeatedly divided and sold. The Native land mass, which started off covering most of Montana in the 1800s, shrunk by treaties that were struck with the government but then rescinded, leaving Native communities displaced (3). While there are currently no reservations within the Valley, tribal members had and continue to have deep spiritual, cultural, and recreational connections to this landscape.
As an organization whose work is tied to the land, GVLT holds respectful acknowledgment and honor for the tribes who stewarded this unique landscape from time immemorial. Since we were founded in 1990, we have protected over 65,000 acres from irreversible development through conservation easements—granting protections into perpetuity. There is still more to protect, and still more to learn. Acknowledgment of tribal nations and their connection here brings necessary Indigenous visibility to the longer history of this area that continues to this day. We invite you to join us in learning more about tribal communities in Montana and this special place we hold so dear.
at burke park/ peets hill
As part of our commitment to learning, GVLT and the City of Bozeman partnered to install a Medicine Wheel at the southern end of Peets Hill, scheduled for completion in spring 2024.
Medicine Wheels are symbolic cultural icons of the ancient ceremonial way of life native to the Northern Plains. Dozens of Medicine Wheels have been identified in the region, with the most famous being the Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark in the Big Horn Mountains, which dates to around 3,200 BC. These rock structures have the shape of a wagon wheel laid on the ground, with most of them having 28 spokes connecting a center cairn to an outer circle. They are multidimensional, sacred instruments that serve as circle maps for the surrounding landscape, calendars of the night sky, and the source for the region’s sacred Sun Dance ceremony.
Native communities continue to use these ancient wheels in both traditional and contemporary ways. Today, they are more commonly represented by a circular image divided into quadrants, with red, black, white, and yellow representing the four cardinal directions. The term Medicine refers to the sacred spiritual power that flows through and connects all things, known as “baxpaa” in the Apsáalooke language, and the wheels elegantly symbolize the power of peace, balance, unity, and knowledge.
- Watch Double Helixes in Medicine Wheel Country: Sacred Circles of Life and Love, Dr. Shane Doyle’s reflection on the multi-tribal ceremonial reburial of Anzick child remains
- Read Dr. Shane Doyle’s In Home Land, published by the Mountain Journal
- Read Essential Understanding Regarding Montana Indians, Indian Education for All, Montana Office of Public Instruction
- Read Six Hundred Generations by Carl M. Davis
- See Native Land app