Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Warmth of the Land

Last week I traveled to central Utah for a day of meetings. Leaving the Twin Rocks trading post late in the afternoon, I arrived at my hotel long after dark, and therefore could not gain any perspective of the unfamiliar landscape. The following day, however, I had the opportunity to drive the full length of the rural Utah valley and was enchanted with the small communities and vast swaths of lush, green vegetation. These quaint hamlets stood in stark contrast to the red rock valley of my origin, and the large fields of alfalfa and rolling hills studded with livestock left me feeling pastoral. It was starting to get hot in Bluff, so I welcomed this short reprieve from our desert heat.

Chief Seattle
Chief Seattle

As I drove the narrow two lane road in the early morning, the chilly crystal air blowing in through the open window enticed me to reach my hand out and try to catch the wind. As the breeze streamed through my open fingers, uncatchable and free flowing, I thought of the response attributed to Chief Sealth (Seattle) when the “Big Chief in Washington” proposed to purchase the tribe’s ancestral lands. “How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us,” Sealth is said to have inquired.

As members of the Anglo culture, the idea is not only knowable, it is fully formed and completely implemented. The concept of buying and selling the air, land, water and whatever else we can conceive of was clearly evidenced by some extremely large and incongruous homes perched upon the rounded knolls dotting the picturesque valley. I have come to believe that experiences, history and values are extremely personal, and it is often difficult to sort out what is right or wrong and what is valuable or not. Although my Democratic friends might find it difficult to believe, as I grow older, I have begun to understand and appreciate the sentiments expressed in Chief Sealth’s speech. I still, however, have great difficulty implementing the principles, although that may come with time.

The blast of a siren and flash of red lights caused me to quickly retract my landing gear, check my speed and slow the vehicle to the designated speed of 55 miles per hour. The thoughts about land preservation, land use and the conflict between traditional Native American and Anglo cultures persisted as I watched the police car disappear in the rear view mirror. Fortunately, the small town peace officer recognized that I was lost in the moment and was only signaling me to slow down and proceed with caution.

During one of the meetings I attended that day, I was informed that, due to a massive landslide caused by too much moisture in 1984, the irrigation water serving much of the valley had become tainted with extreme accumulations of silt. As a result, agricultural production had decreased by almost a third, and the traditional farming lifestyle was endangered. Strange, I thought, how the tables had turned; instead of people degrading Mother Nature, she had instead aggrieved her inhabitants. In another odd twist of fate, rising land values, and the corresponding real property sales to new residents, were mitigating the loss and improving the economy of these small towns.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley

It has become apparent to me that there is a direct, inverse relationship between Native American values and economic development. What we value as part of the Anglo culture; formal education, jobs, economic prosperity, a large mortgage, is inconsistent with much, if not all, of Native America. So the question must be asked, “How can traditional Native American values persist in contemporary society?” How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? One need only visit the local county recorder’s office to answer that question.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright Twin Rocks Trading Post 2007

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