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Lighting of the Teepees: Exhibit returns to Yellowstone Park for second year

Teepees during the day
Posted at 6:36 PM, Aug 03, 2023

GARDINER — Long before it became the United State's first national park, Yellowstone was a common hunting, meeting and spiritual grounds for 27 tribes.

This week, a colorful display pays tribute to the park's indigenous history as well as very recent stories of resilience.

“Last year was about the resiliency of the people because of the flood and the bridges and the roads that were washed away. So this year we thought, well, let's go back down. By popular demand," said William Snell Jr., president of the Pretty Shield Foundation.

The Pretty Shield Foundation, named for Snell's great-grandmother Pretty Shield, focuses on cultural preservation while focusing on unity, positivity and cross-cultural education.

"My ancestors really expressed the importance to us to share our way of life because we don't want it to be forgotten," Snell said. "We're resilient. We still exist. And I think that it's really important that be shared with all people," Snell said.

One eye-catching way of doing this, the Pretty Shield Foundation has found, is raising and illuminating teepees.

"We're using the lodge as one of the main symbols of the Plains Indians," Snell said. "They actually represent the protection of our mother, because we have three mothers: We have the biological mother, Mother Earth, and the lodge is one of our mothers."

Snell says the first teepee lighting was in Winnipeg, Canada, as a symbol of hope for troubled youth. Since then, it has spread across the West and Montana and first came to Yellowstone National Park in 2022.

Lighting the teepees in a place that attracts millions of visitors a year has allowed Pretty Shield Foundation to share indigenous culture with people from all over the world.

Valerie and Michael Mellano are visiting the park from San Diego, California, and describe the exhibit as "spectacular."

"The indigenous story is such a key part of Yellowstone National Park. This is a really cool setup," Michael Mellano said.

The teepees will be up through Aug. 7 and are illuminated every night at sunset. Members of the Pretty Shield Foundation are present to share stories and information with visitors. It is all free and open to the public.