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US park ranger tases Native American man after walking off-trail at ancestral site

A park ranger at Petroglyph National Monument stunned a Native American man accused of walking off the trail.
A park ranger at Petroglyph National Monument stunned a Native American man accused of walking off the trail. © Screenshots Winona C. House / Instagram

A video shared widely on social media shows a park ranger using a stun gun on a Native American man on December 27 at Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The man was accused of walking off-trail at the park and failing to show identification to the park ranger. The video has inspired outrage on social networks as users question the park ranger’s use of force.

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Darrell House, who identifies himself as Navajo and Oneida Native American, was visiting the park and walking his dog with his cousin at Petroglyph National Monument when he says he stepped off the trail in order to maintain distance from an approaching group of hikers.

Petroglyph National Monument is a federal park featuring thousands of historic Pueblo rock carvings, which hold significant cultural significance to Native American tribes. 

“I go there to pray. I bring my sage. I do my prayers. I harvest dirt from the area for ceremonies,” House told KOB4 news in Albuquerque.

While he was off the path, a park ranger approached him and his cousin and attempted to collect their information to file a warning for being off the trail, which is against the park’s regulations to protect the site’s historic artefacts and natural ecosystem. In body camera footage of the incident, the park ranger can be seen approaching the two hikers to talk about the “off-trail stuff” before asking them for their names and dates of birth.

" Idon’t want to ID myself,' House said in this video taken on December 27, before he was tased by a park ranger.

In the bodycam footage of the event, the park ranger explained to House that the petroglyphs are sacred to a number of tribes and that he intended to prevent ongoing acts of vandalism. House then identified himself as a Native American. 

House walked away from the ranger, refused to provide his name, and apologised for being off the trail. When he attempted to move back to the trail and continue walking, the ranger tells him that he would be detained for failing to provide identification. When House turns to walk away, the ranger removes his stun gun from its holster.

In a video posted to Instagram on December 27, a park ranger is seen deploying his taser at a Native American man walking his dog on the trail.

In the video above, which House’s cousin began recording moments before he was tased, we can see House scream for help while the ranger is aiming a stun weapon at him. After being tased, House continues to yell and attempts to move away from the ranger, asking him to stop, while the ranger repeatedly asks him to show his hands. House responds with, “I don’t have anything.”

From the angles shown in both the ranger’s body camera footage of the event and the video shared online, we can see that House’s hands were up and visible for the majority of the interaction. No weapons were found on House after the interaction.

The park ranger attempted to handcuff House multiple times, until another ranger arrived at the scene. This second ranger handcuffs House while the first continues to point a taser at him. House asks them why he is being arrested, to which the rangers reply that he is only being detained for a short time.

“I didn’t feel I needed to identify myself for doing absolutely nothing wrong,” House wrote on Instagram after the incident. “I’m traumatized. My left leg is numb and still bleeding.”

According to a statement from the National Park Service( NPS) which manages the park, House and his cousin were seen climbing on the petroglyphs, or carved rock features, in the park. According to House, he only left the path briefly to perform prayers near the rocks.

Several parks associations, indigenous rights groups and local government have denounced the ranger’s escalation and use of force in policing a Native American on ancestral lands. According to the Utah Diné Bikéyah nonprofit organisation, which works to protect culturally significant lands for indigenous Americans, House’s “rights may have been violated” under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which grants indigenous Americans access to sacred sites, many of which are located on public land, in order to exercise traditional religious practices.

According to a statement from Ernie Atencio, the Southwest Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association:

The ranger’s failure to de-escalate the situation and his excessive use of force on a park visitor in a routine encounter is shocking and not the behavior we expect to see from our national park rangers. [...] Every site in the National Park System is on ancestral Native American lands. This park was specifically designated to protect indigenous sacred sites and has always allowed access for traditional ceremonial activities.

According to the National Parks Service, the organisation “works to ensure that tribes and tribal members have full and appropriate access to their sacred sites”.

Following the incident, Native groups organised a prayer walk in protest, and called for the firing of the park ranger. 

Both House and his cousin received citations for being off-trail and providing false information to officers, and could face a fine. The incident is currently under investigation by the National Parks Service.

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