Gerard's Open Road

  • INTERVIEWED BY:

    Central Route

  • INTERVIEW LOCATION:

    Mt. Rushmore, SD

  • AIRED ON:

    Public Television: Season 2

  • ON DVD:

    Roadtrip Nation: Season 2

GERARD BAKER

Park Superintendent
Mount Rushmore

“I was told by a nun at Catholic boarding school, ‘You know, the best thing you can do with your life is to get a good job pumping gas in a gas station and stay with it.’ The highlight of my life was going back to that same school as the graduation speaker and telling the audience, ‘I’m not working at the gas station.’”

INTERESTS:

Environment & Nature

THEMES DISCUSSED:

Culture Determination Education Failure Hard Work Negativity Pressure Struggle Passion Family

TAGS:

American Indian, basketball, catholic school, challenge, cleaning toilets, educating, grunt work, ignorance, intelligence, marriage, minority, natural environment, partying, picked up trash, preservation, proving yourself, pumping gas, reservation, respect, stubborn

BIOGRAPHY:

A job at the National Park Service may not seem like the kind of work that would elicit death threats. But for Gerard Baker, it did. Gerard unintentionally stirred up the locals when he worked at Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana. How? Simply by suggesting that the park should incorporate Native American peoples back into the story presented to park visitors. Gerard persisted in his mission in Montana in spite of the threats, and then went on to become the first Native American superintendent of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. But he wasn’t always so driven and certain of what he was doing. Growing up on a reservation in North Dakota, Gerard lived 30 miles from the nearest National Park, but since his family didn’t have a car he didn’t visit until he was much older. When he finally made it there, he was amazed--it was a different world! Huge trees, neat roads, families happily camping. That place stayed with him. Soon he was off to college, but he didn’t study and flunked out. “You’re not a warrior,” his father and uncle told him. They gestured to the books from his failed classes, “You can’t even beat a pile of books.” Feeling defeated, he started looking for what to do next, and remembered the National Park. He applied, and got his first job there--cleaning toilets and checking in campers--but it was enough to convince him that the Park Service was where he should be. He went on to spearhead programs in nearby schools, which began his career-long theme of using the Park System to teach about our natural resources and our cultural resources. Even though that stance has sometimes been unpopular, he knows that it’s important to press forward anyway. “I realized,” he says, “that what I was doing was making a difference, otherwise people wouldn’t have been threatened.”

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