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Bear Lodge/Devils Tower National Monument, a spectacular rock formation in northeastern Wyoming, has a multiplicity of meanings, not all of which were fully acknowledged until the 1990s. It is widely known as a geologic wonder, the first national monument, a marker of local and pioneer heritage, and a premier rock climbing area. In the 1980s and ‘90s, however, the National Park Service began to acknowledge that the Tower also holds cultural and historical meaning for the Northern Plains tribes, dating back long before the colonization of the American West. Some of the tribes expressed to the Park Service that they were offended by rock climbers desecrating the Tower, a sacred site, leading the Park Service to seek to compromise between these competing uses of this public land. The controversy over climbing at Bear Lodge/Devils Tower was, and remains, a debate over history, and this thesis examines the historical foundations for the discourses of climbers, local white residents, tribal members, and the Park Service, as these various groups asserted their claims to this public space. This thesis contends that the language used by climbers and local white residents in arguing against the Park Service’s accommodation of tribal cultures and beliefs appropriated the languages of spirituality and tradition used by the tribes, and sought to delegitimize the tribal claims to the Tower. The Park Service is complicit in controlling the discourses surrounding the Tower and erasing the traditions and complex history of the Northern Plains tribal ties to this sacred place.

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