GREAT FALLS (AP) -- The All Nations Pishkun Association wants to expand the Ulm Pishkun State Park to make it more historically accurate, and state officials appear receptive to the idea.
Only part of North America's longest buffalo jump is currently under the protection of the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The association believes it all should be.
''We need to keep the spiritual integrity of the whole jump intact," said Lyle Heavy Runner, the association's president. ''After all, we used the whole jump to take our buffalo."
The Department of Natural Resource Conservation, which owns the remainder of the pishkun, would be receptive to transferring it to the wildlife agency, said new DNRC Director Mary Sexton.
''We'd be happy to look at all possibilities. We should be able to work something out with FWP," she said.
A land swap with Ted Turner years ago gave the state ownership of the cliff over which Indians drove herds of buffalo to their deaths. At the bottom, they were butchered by American Indian women.
A $2.2 million visitors' center is now located at the park.
The DNRC swapped 1,400 acres with FWP to get land better suited to grazing and to allow the buffalo jump to become a state park. DNRC still owns adjoining land, nearly 1,300 acres.
The All Nations Pishkun Association leased one portion for about $2,500 a year, and Hamlett and a partner leased the other section for another $1,600.
''We were afraid that if someone came in and wanted to put a gravel pit on it, DNRC would let them because it needs to get the biggest bang for its buck," said Heavy Runner.
Black-tailed prairie dogs are taking over the park, leaving several hundred acres on top of the pishkun looking like a lunar wasteland. Without the vegetation, it's easier to see arrowheads, and park officials suspect visitors have been picking them up.
''Tepee rings are also being destroyed by the prairie dog burrows," said Heavy Runner.
Several sweat lodges have been built on top of the pishkun for American Indian religious ceremonies, but they're being threatened by prairie dogs.
Brad Hamlett, the association's vice president, estimated that one prairie dog village on top of the pishkun is about 200 acres.
''They're not native to this place," said Heavy Runner. ''Otherwise, my people would have been up here on top, butchering buffalo with broken legs."
''We're going to have a wildlife biologist come in and take a look at this," said Richard Hopkins, the park's director. ''We may put up some raptor towers," he said. ''It would be a natural way to control that population."
Heavy Runner said he would like to see a few buffalo grazing under the jump, and the association hopes to get a tepee from each of Montana's 11 Indian tribes to set up in a circle near the visitors' center.
''We want to put up a tepee from each tribe and build an arbor so we could hold powwows out here," Heavy Runner told the Great Falls Tribune.
The pishkun has been a sacred site for the area tribes, he added, but particularly for the Blackfeet.
''Tribal elders tell me of certain sites where things happen, a rock or a ring where they can make contact with the spirit world," said Hopkins. ''But no one knows exactly where those sites are, so you have to preserve it all.
''If you don't protect the integrity of the whole site, it diminishes the whole," he said. ''And that will diminish the strength of the ceremony."
Information from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com