Former BLM director Neil Kornze headlines Celebrate Cedar Mesa event in Bluff
Celebrate Cedar Mesa, an annual gathering focused on the archaeology of San Juan County, took place last weekend in Bluff, drawing a sold-out crowd from around the Four Corners and beyond.
The three-day event is hosted in March by Friends of Cedar Mesa (FCM) and features service projects, an awards ceremony, speakers, music, and volunteer-led hikes.
On Friday, 50 volunteers working with BLM, SITLA, and FCM employees gave over 300 hours to projects in Bears Ears, Cedar Mesa, Valley of the Gods, and Bears Ears Education Center in Bluff.
At the awards event on Friday, Bluff resident Joyce Martini was recognized for over 100 days of volunteering with FCM’s Visit with Respect Ambassador program during the last year to educate visitors about properly visiting archaeological sites.
Kay Shumway of Blanding received the Local Preservationist of the Year award for his collaboration with FCM to restore an historic Shumway family cabin near Recapture Wash.
Shumway showed photos of the crumbling 1912 structure before the project and noted that without restoration it would have likely been destroyed.
After hundreds of hours of volunteer labor, the walls have been rebuilt, interpretive panels have been installed, and the cabin is open to anyone interested in learning about pioneer history.
A film screening from local filmmaker Angelo Baca followed the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition’s efforts to push for the creation of the monument in 2016, as well as his grandmother’s traditional ties to the landscape.
On Saturday, over 300 people gathered in the Bluff Community Center for presentations by archaeologists, policy makers, lawyers, and Native leaders, with a keynote speech by Neil Kornze, BLM Director under President Barack Obama.
Kornze discussed the five-day listening tour he took through San Juan County with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in 2016, including a sweltering public hearing in Bluff on what was then the proposed Bears Ears National Monument. Kornze said he “walked away much better educated” from the meeting.
Kornze spoke about the BLM’s challenging and diffuse mission of “multiple use and sustained yield” across millions of acres of public land, which are managed for everything from grazing and mineral extraction to conservation and recreation.
Finally, Kornze told a personal tale about visiting an ancient granary on Cedar Mesa in 2016 and seeing a child’s footprints pressed into the mortar. He said he would be going out on the landscape this week with his two-year-old son, adding, “This is a special place and needs to be protected.” He received a standing ovation.
The next standing ovation came at the end of the day when a panel of four Native American activists and scholars from the Ute Mountain Ute, Hopi, and Navajo tribes recorded a live edition of the Heritage Voices Podcast on stage.
In a wide ranging discussion, Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, Lyle Balenquah, Ed Kabotie, and Angelo Baca, reflected on Bears Ears National Monument, environmental and tribal sovereignty issues, traditional spirituality, and tribal history.
Lopez-Whiteskunk, former co-chair of the Inter-Tribal Coalition, described Bears Ears National Monument as a place where “indigenous knowledge meets science.”
Baca agreed, saying, “The time of the Indian expert is over. It’s time for expert Indians.”
The podcast recording of their talk will be available for free online.
Tha ‘Yoties, a Hopi reggae band, played Saturday night in the future Bears Ears Education Center in Bluff.
The education center was recently purchased by FCM and is undergoing remodeling. FCM staff announced a tentative opening date for the center in the fall of 2018.