October 2012

Pondering an apology to Native Americans

By Art Goodtimes



Homage à un Quillenista

Cruising. Window open
In a rush to get to

Late, as always
The pages of a Quillen screed
flapping their backseat lips

too loud not to listen
Colorado Central
Denver Post

Head-on straight stuff
whose shape-shifting humor
insured a guffaw

Grabbed you by the scruff
of your lame horse
& then handed you a brew

A specialist at poking holes
in glazed doughboys
about-to-become donuts

With an uncanny knack
for all the “inappropriate” places
Sump pits to hot shots

It’s passed mid-September
& starting to turn cold
But, truth is, I like

Ed’s flapping breeze at my back
I’m leaving my window

RECONCILIATION … I had the honor to be selected as a speaker at the conference last month in Boulder, sponsored by the University of Colorado’s Center of the American West – “The Nation Possessed: The Conflicting Claims on America’s Public Lands.” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was one of the special guests, along with former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and a number of former heads of the Bureau of Land Management. … While there were many excellent presentations and discussions (which you can find out more about at the website http://centerwest.org/events/the-nation-possessed), I was most deeply moved by the opening speech of Native American rights attorney Walter Echo- Hawk. He laid out the inherent irony in a celebration of public lands that had originally been taken from Native peoples against their will. He cited their dispossession of the land as one of the enduring injustices that this nation has never quite come to terms with. “Every inch of this continent was owned when the Europeans first came,” he noted … Afterwards, I spoke to him privately about what was needed to resolve this grave injustice that has never been adequately addressed in our country. He explained that reconciliation consists of five parts – first, the incident of wounding or injustice; second, an apology by the perpetrators or their descendants; third, an acceptance of that apology by those harmed; fourth, some kind of just atonement; and fifth, a state of reconciliation. This process tracked the kind of reconciliation that was beautifully illustrated this last Mountainfilm Festival by the excellent film, "Fambul Tok," which explored this very kind of process as it happened on a grassroots level in Sierra Leone after their devastating civil war … It also touched me deeply because I had read Bob Silbernagel’s excellent book – “Troubled Trails: The Meeker Affair and the Expulsion of the Utes from Colorado” (Univ. of Utah Press, 2011). In it, he describes a letter that Arvis Gilson wrote to Col. Ranald MacKenzie on June 21, 1881 – shortly before the Ute removal – "informing the military commander that he [Gilson] had recently visited with ‘various Utes’ in the area around the San Miguel River, west of the Uncompahgre Valley but still considered Uncompahgre Ute territory. ‘All say they would rather die than go to the Grand River country because it is worthless.’" … This was the first documented account of the Utes being removed from the San Miguel Watershed that I had seen. It brought to mind how Ophir, a few years ago, had erected a monument to the Utes, thanks to the work of David Glynn and others. And it sparked the thought in me that perhaps San Miguel County could help begin the reconciliation process by issuing a formal apology to the Uncompahgre Utes, now living in Utah, for their forced removal from San Miguel County. I’ve spoken with the current board, and they are receptive to the concept. Thanks to Bob Silbernagel, I have also corresponded with Ute elder Jonas D. Grant, Sr., who was also receptive to the idea. And most recently, at the Boulder conference, I met Barbara Suteer, a retired Interior Dept. employee who had been the superintendent at the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument in Montana on the Crow Reservation, where I served a year as a Vista volunteer in the mid-Sixties. She is half-Ute, and was also very receptive to the thought of working on a formal apology … So, I am hoping to begin work on a draft apology document with the help of Grant and Suteer and others. This isn’t the answer to the scandal of Native dispossession of the land at the roots of our “imperfect union,” as President Obama likes to characterize our country — with its lofty goals but hard realities that many of us are working to change. But this could be the beginning of a local process of reconciliation, just as Sec. Salazar explained to us in Boulder was under way at the Department of Interior, under his leadership. If you are interested in assisting in this process, please contact me through this paper.

HEADWATERS XXIII … Focusing on “unexpected partnerships,” this annual Western State Colorado University gathering of scholars, writers, poets, musicians, community activists, ranchers, lawyers, natural-resource scientists and inquiring citizens in Gunnison featured Quivira Coalition founder Courtney White as keynote speaker. Having moved from Sierra Club leader to bridge-builder between the environmental community and ranchers, White outlined what he’s calling the “New Agrarianism” to describe the slow-food, locallyproduced farm, ranch and orchard movement that seems to be sweeping the country, led mostly by young people. It’s a trend built on the community-based partnerships between former enemies-turned-allies that is the hallmark of his organization – coming from a place he calls “the Radical Center” … Mark Hatcher of the Forest Service, Betsy Neely of The Nature Conservancy, Nate Seward of Colorado Parks & Wildlife, and private landowner Rufus Winderson spoke of the successes and challenges of the Gunnison sage grouse partnerships … Anthony Poponi of the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition lauded the impressive work of his nonadvocacy group focused on getting things done to benefit riparian systems. And Headwaters founder George Sibley, Frank Kugel of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy, river runner Matt Brown of Scenic River Tours and Diane Merriott of the Taylor Park Marina talked of their partnership success in managing flows on the Taylor River for all the various competing interests …. And former state representative Kathleen Curry was on a panel exploring political partnerships beyond the local … There was Alan Wartes performing his “Headwaters Anthem,” Aaron Abeyta of Alamosa doing his annual letter to the Headwaters, yours truly performing “The Art of Getting Lost,” a homage to the late Headwaters elder Ed Quillen, and the Sunday morning Passing of the Gourd – where participants got to share a story, thought, song or poem from their own hearts to wind up the event… For more info, visit www.western.edu/academics/headwaters/headwaters-conference.

Art Goodtimes is a San Miguel County commissioner.