Sun Road Opens with Ceremonial Blackfeet Blessing

National Park Service, tribe honor first Native American ranger at Logan Pass ceremony

By Justin Franz
A ceremony was held at Logan Pass on June 30 to mark the opening of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon.

LOGAN PASS — On July 15, 1933, the completion of a decade-long effort to build a highway through the heart of Glacier National Park was commemorated with an extravagant gala celebration on the Continental Divide.

According to the National Park Service, more than 4,000 people gathered at Logan Pass for the dedication and formal opening of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Among the most distinguished guests were members of the Blackfeet Nation who offered a blessing for the new road, according to a 1933 Helena Independent Record story.

“Standing on a site which overlooks the watershed of two oceans and commands expansive panoramas of tumbling snow-capped mountains, wooded valleys and sky-blue lakes, Two-Guns White Calf, the venerable Blackfeet chieftain … welcomed (automobiles) to the high pass where in the old days the Blackfeet defended their territory against invasion by the Flathead and Kootenai tribes from the west,” the paper reported.

In the park’s early years, the Blackfeet were closely associated with Glacier, in part because it was an important part of the tribe’s culture and also because of a savvy advertising campaign by the Great Northern Railway that encouraged travelers to visit.

“Years ago, when people got off the train in East Glacier Park, they were greeted by the Blackfeet, but at some point over the years that close connection between the tribe and park was lost,” Superintendent Jeff Mow says.

In recent years, the National Park Service and Blackfeet have been trying to restore that historic relationship, mostly through collaborative interpretive efforts, but also through shared conservation efforts. On the east side of the park, they’re exploring ways to restore bison to the area. Last year, in an effort to further that relationship, the Park Service invited Blackfeet tribal members to perform a private blessing on the Sun Road once it opened to Logan Pass. They did it again this year, but for the first time since the 1930s, it was open to the public and media.

The blessing and ceremony at Logan Pass on June 30, two days after the 50-mile cross-mountain highway opened for the season, also gave park officials and tribal members a chance to honor Francis X. Guardipee, the first Native American park ranger. Guardipee was a Blackfeet tribal member and worked in Glacier from 1932 until 1948. He died in 1970. This year, he’s featured on Glacier’s annual park pass. About a dozen of Guardipee’s descendants were on hand for the ceremony to discuss his place in Glacier Park history.

Officials said such ceremonies are a great opportunity to teach park history to a new generation.

“Glacier National Park is a fantastic classroom for people from all over the world,” said Blackfeet Chairman Harry Barnes, “the same classroom the Blackfeet have been using for thousands of years.”