March 29, 2013

Casual Friday

Call for applications for those of you research gender in the American West:

The Coalition for Western Women’s History announces the 15th Annual Irene Ledesma Prize, 2013 for Ph.D. graduate student research in western women’s history.

Deadline for submission: May 15, 2013.

The $1,000 prize supports travel to collections or other research expenses related to the histories of women and gender in the American West. Applicants must be enrolled in a Ph.D. program and be members of the Coalition of Western Women’s History (CWWH) at the time of application.  The prize honors the memory of Irene Ledesma, whose contributions to Chicana and working-class history were ended by her untimely death in 1997.

The CWWH will award the prize at the CWWH Breakfast during the 53rd Annual Western History Association conference at Tucson, Arizona,

October 9-12, 2013.

Proposals will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

 - How well the applicant stated her or his research question and the significance of the overall project.
- How well the applicant demonstrated her or his knowledge of the primary source materials related to the proposal.
- How well the applicant framed her or his project in terms of the broader theoretical and historiographic issues significant to the topic.
 - How well the proposal addressed issues of gender and/or women’s history in the U.S. West.
- How well the proposed budget dovetails with the applicant’s stated research agenda.

To apply, submit one copy of each of the following (as a PDF file) to committee chair Cynthia Prescott at <>:

 - A CV
 - A brief description of the research project and an explanation of how the prize funds would support the research (not exceeding three pages, double spaced, addressing the criteria)
- A line-item budget
- A letter of support from the student's major advisor

March 26, 2013

Environmentalism, Sacred Native Land, and the Failure of the First Amendment

by Kenny Richards

American Indians have had serious trouble winning religious freedom cases in the high courts of this country.  Felix Cohen, a legal scholar who set much of the groundwork for practicing federal Indian law, once remarked that we should watch closely what happens in the federal courts when American Indians are involved, as these cases often act as canaries in the coal mine.  If what Cohen warns is true, then these canaries fell to the bottom of their cages a long time ago.  The persistent failure of the American government to protect the right to the free exercise of religion for American Indians suggests that this government is enforcing a particular and biased conception of religion.  In landmark cases such as Employment Division v. Smith, Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association, and Navajo Nation v. United States Forest Service, the United States court system has repeatedly shown its aversion to protecting the religious rights of American Indians. 
In response to this pattern in high court decisions, different tribal entities have begun arguing for environmental conservation as a way to protect their sacred places from destructive forms of development.  Across the United States, various forms of destructive development, from open-pit mining to energy production are currently threatening the existence and perpetuity of many American Indian sacred places. The shift in legal argumentation from religious freedom into environmental arguments for the protection of American Indian sacred places offers an important opportunity for many to see how, exactly, the court’s interpretation of the First Amendment is failing to protect American Indian religious traditions.  

This past winter, the Snowbowl Ski Resort in Arizona began making snow from recycled human wastewater to spray on their ski runs in the San Francisco Peaks.  This forested and ecologically rich mountain range is a sacred place for many of the Indigenous peoples of the American Southwest.  Klee Benally is a member of the Navajo Nation and an Indigenous and environmental rights activist.  Benally has been working for the protection of the San Francisco Peaks for many years now. As reported by media outlets such as Indian Country Today and The Navajo-Hopi Observer, this past December, Benally participated in a public protest in Flagstaff Arizona where, with a group of other Indian peoples, he argued that snow production violated their human rights, namely their right to the freedom of religion. Benally told Indian Country Today, “what needs to happen is the government needs to afford the same rights to Native Americans that everybody else in this country enjoys.” Not long afterwards, Benally marched with more than a dozen people down to the local U.S. Forest Service headquarters in Cococino National Forest and hand delivered letters of protest addressing the recent promise by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help protect American sacred places.  With the flair of an activist, Benally poured a 5-gallon bucket of treated sewage effluent, the same water to be used on the mountain for snow-production, in the center of the main entrance to the park headquarters.  The Forest Service promptly called in a Hazardous Materials Response Team, or “HAZMAT” to clean and neutralize this hazardous spill.  Benally was then arrested and now faces a maximum possible sentence of $20,000 in fines and 2 years imprisonment.  In a written statement responding to his arrest, as published in the Navajo-Hopi Observer, Benally wrote, “The irony is that the USFS has authorized to spill more than 1.5 million gallons of treated sewage effluent per day onto a rare and pristine alpine habitat, yet they feel it’s appropriate to call hazmat when a pail of this same wastewater is allegedly poured onto their polished tile floors?  I hold the USFS liable for the environmental poisoning that is set to occur on the peaks right now.”

Step back four years: in 2008, after years of litigation, appeals, district, and federal court decisions the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the production of artificial snow on the San Francisco Peaks did not violate the right to the free exercise of religion for several thousand Indian people. The Indian plaintiffs in this argued that the use of treated sewage effluent for snow production at a skiing resort on Mt. Humphrey’s would desecrate one of their sacred mountains, thus destroying their ability to practice their traditional religions. 

After the 9th Circuit decided the case, Indian peoples continued to protest snow production, alleging human rights infringements in terms of both Indigenous rights and U.S. constitutional rights.  All the while, the Snowbowl Ski Resort continued to put pipes in the ground and make preparations for snow production from recycled sewage effluent.  Since their First Amendment case failed, several groups, including the Hopi Tribe and the Save the Peaks Coalition (an environmentally focused group), have brought lawsuits arguing that the production of snow from treated wastewater will violate certain environmental laws. 

This turn to environmental law for the protection of American Indian sacred places in Arizona is not a singular phenomenon.  Disputes over uranium mining on Mount Taylor in New Mexico, Copper mining from the Pebble Mine in Alaska, and the proper management of the Ka’u Forest Reserve in Hawai’i are all examples of sacred places that are being fought over in environmental terms. Tisa Wenger, a historian of American religions, argues that many American Indians adopted the Euro-American concept of religion as a means of responding to and resisting colonial force.  Not surprisingly, in light of the almost complete failure of American Indian religious freedom cases brought before the U.S. government there is emerging a new adaptation as a way to protect Indigenous ways of life and landscapes. 

Congress and the judiciary must come to terms with their own coercive history and to the limited and unjust definitions of religion that they enforce. The American Indian turn to environmental law in religious freedom cases speaks loudly to the failure of the U.S. government and the First Amendment as protectors of equal rights.   It is high time for the courts, and perhaps Congress, to reassess their definition of religion to include the Indigenous peoples who have not historically fallen under the protection of the First Amendment. 

March 22, 2013

Casual Friday

In connection to Tuesday's post, this news article (not exactly news now, since it is nearly three years old) may be of interest.

From the Vernal Express (11/9/10):

Members of the Northern Ute Indian Tribe plan to petition President Barack Obama for the return of the Uncompahgre Reservation.
The Utes are asking to recover some 2 million acres of land near Vernal, the majority of which is public domain in Duchesne, Grand and Uintah counties. Much of the land borders Colorado on the east, Grand County on the south, the Uintah and Ouray Reservation on the west...

For the entire article, click here.
See also this blurb at Indian Country Today Media Network.

March 19, 2013

troubling wests, troubling landscapes

by stan thayne

I am often curious about what leads people to their topics of study. Often I don’t think we know just what it is that pushes us to the topics we choose to study. It seems that for many of us who end up studying the American West as an academic field, the impulse do so has something to do with having left, often quite literally, the West we grew up in. Such reflection often involves looking back, often with a westering gaze, and with new eyes. Laurie Maffly-Kipp made this recognition in the opening lines to her book Religion and Society in Frontier California: “Like many westerners, I became interested in the history of my native region only after leaving it.” That recognition could apply to many who look back on homelands with a new perspective. Jared Farmer, for example, whom I referred to in my previous post on haunting, wrote about a mountain and a lake that frame the landscape he grew up in. William Cronon began his book Nature’s Metropolis with a memory of family vacations from Wisconsin to Chicago—a city he came to see as an integral connecting point of “the Great West.”

For some the decision to write about the West may come with moments of disconnect between a new, historicized West and the West they grew up with. Brandi Denison, my co-conspirator here at the RAW blog, begins her dissertation on Ute land religion with a recognition that, for twentieth-century Utes who traveled to Meeker, Colorado—from whence their ancestors had been removed and relocated to the Uintah-Ouray Reservation in Utah—the site has quite a different meaning than it does for many local Euroamerican kids who grew up watching the annual fourth of July “Meeker Massacre Pageant,” which, as she explains, “diminished the specifics of Ute removal in order to emphasize the horror of the Meeker Massacre and the ultimate success of civilization” (12).

I imagine all of us have those moments, when suddenly something we grew up with, or within, suddenly appears in a new light; at times tainted, or haunted, or simply made more real by the sudden presence of a disquietung past. And speaking of the Uintah-Ouray Reservation, I had this realization not long ago when—I don’t remember the source—I came to the realization that the reservation at one time encompassed a good deal of what is now the High Uinta Wilderness Area, which was one of my favorite playgrounds as a kid growing up in Utah. That realization made rather concrete for me just what William Cronon meant—or, if it isn’t what he meant, it’s what it suddenly meant to me—when he titled his essay “The Trouble with Wilderness.” Our romanticization of wilderness as the pristine, untouched, uninhabited, virgin forest (and recreation area)—nature—overlooks the fact of human habitation and land use that European eyes have not always been trained to see (or respect)—or which they chose to ignore.[1] Of course, the Uinta Basin was not the exclusive site of Ute residence and land use prior to European settlement. In the 1860s the federal government, with the cooperation of Brigham Young, removed a group of Ute people from Sanpete and Utah valleys in central Utah and relocated them to the Uinta Basin. Later Ute people from Colorado were removed there as well. In the wake of the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887, a lot of that land was opened to non-Ute settlement, mining, or was taken into public domain as national forest land. In 1984, twenty years after the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, a large chunk of the land was designated as the High Uintas Wilderness Area—the same land that one hundred years before a settler had described as “one vast ‘contiguity of waste,’ and measurably valueless, excepting for nomadic purposes, hunting grounds for Indians and to hold the world together.”[2] A far different estimation from that of Americans viewing the basin through lenses that shaped the alpine romanticism that informed the Wilderness Act of 1964.

And it is here that I come to an ambivalence that often characterizes such haunting. I have very fond memories of the times I spent in the Uintas Wilderness; I feel a sense of attachment to that land, to that landscape. And, as a product of the same impulses that created the Wilderness Act of 1964, I don’t think that setting aside wilderness, to protect from privatization and commercial development, is a bad idea. And yet, there still remains “the trouble with wilderness,” the problem of the multiple removals that have taken place, the whittling down of homelands and sovereignties through acts of force and broken treaties that remain, if not always visible, somehow there, in the landscapes, those intimate creations of human action and the land itself that is somehow an accumulation—a palmipsest, as I called it earlier—of all who have dwelt there or moved across, and of those who remain or return. Which brings me to, if not a conclusion, an observation: If the realization that, as Jared Farmer put it, there is “no such thing as an innocent landscape”[3] does not suggest an immediate solution to the problem with wilderness—or agricultural land, or mines, or national parks, or private property—such troubling of the landscape does provide a greater context and a more complicated picture. It is a place to begin.

[1] On this point also see Richard White, “Indian Land Use and Environmental Change,” Arizona and the West 17.4 (Winter 1975): 327.
[2] Qtd. in Jared Farmer, On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), 101.
[3] Interview at Religion Dispatches, April 22, 2010.

March 8, 2013

Redd Center grants due March 15

The Charles Redd Center for Western Studies offers a number of awards, fellowships, and grant opportunities for folks doing research on topics related to the American West. There are awards for graduate students, faculty, independent researchers, visiting scholars, etc, and for specialized topics, such as women's history, local histories, creative projects, and the use of special collections at BYU. Grant applications are due next Friday, March 15. For details, click here.

March 4, 2013

Book of the Month: American Heathens

Review by Quincy D. Newell

In his wonderful, and still relatively new, book American Heathens: Religion, Race, and Reconstruction in California (University of California Press and Huntington Library, 2012), Joshua Paddison transports us to post-Civil War California, where the meaning of citizenship is under debate.  Who was American?  Paddison argues that California stood at the center of the debate because of its multiethnic society, where “race” included black and white but also Indian and Chinese, where “religion” included Protestant, Catholic, and several varieties of non-Christian.  For those of us dissatisfied with a narrative of American race relations that concentrates on the black-white binary, Paddison’s story is a refreshing new take on the postbellum years.

Paddison’s main arguments are, first, “that religion was central to formations of race and citizenship in the post-Civil War United States” (4), and second, “that Reconstruction was a multiracial and multiregional process of national reimagining” that resulted in “a knitting together of North, South, and West around a newly robust white Christian identity during the course of” the decade following the removal of federal troops from the South in 1877 (5).

Paddison tells this story with a remarkable attention to detail, weaving together tales of individual preachers, converts, and activists (one of whom, Jee Gam, Paddison has written about here before) to demonstrate the issues at play and the halting, incremental accumulation of support for a definition of citizenship centered around race, religion, and gender: white Christian manhood.  This is not a simple story: as Paddison writes, “the nation’s rejection of Indians and Chinese immigrants as citizens in the 1880s came not as a result of race ‘trumping’ religion.  Rather, one religio-racial vision—Christian white male supremacy—triumphed over another that emphasized anti-Catholicism and paternalistic racial uplift” (9).

Paddison focuses on the Indian and Chinese “questions” in California, which centered around the positioning of non-white, but (at least potentially) Christian people within American society.  These questions found practical application in proposed legislation on immigration, in the Chinese case, and allotment, in the case of Indians.  A surprisingly wide array of factions mobilized around these questions, each jockeying for religio-racial position.  Protestant ministers sought to extend a vision of Manifest Destiny that brought all racial and national groups into the Christian fold, an optimistic program built, at times, on a virulent anti-Catholicism.  Meanwhile, Irish-American and Mexican-American Catholics sought to consolidate their position in the new national order by emphasizing the unassimilability of Chinese immigrants and Indians, regardless of their religious affiliations.

Perhaps most striking about this story is the change over time that Paddison documents.  As decades pass, we see staunch supporters of the Indians and Chinese soften and then reverse their positions.  When these groups lose their (white, Protestant, male) advocates, Paddison shows, the way is opened for Congress to pass exclusion acts that severely restrict Chinese immigration and the Allotment Act, which does much to destroy Indian cultures.

In my view, the most important aspect of Paddison’s book is the way in which it integrates California into the history of Reconstruction and thereby refocuses the conversation, insisting that the story cannot be understood without taking the West into account.  Just as California served as a model for the nation in the story that Paddison tells, Paddison’s nuanced treatment of the entanglement of race and religion in the political questions of postbellum California is a model for the rest of us.

March 1, 2013

Casual Friday

Attention, all graduate students! This looks like a great opportunity.


The Center for the Southwest at the University of New Mexico, the Institute for the Study of the American West at the Autry National Center,the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, the Research Division of The Huntington Library, the Hemispheric Institute of the Americas at the University of California, Davis, the Howard R. Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borders at Yale University, the Bill Lane Center for the Study of the North American West at Stanford University, the Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University, and the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest at the University of Washington invite applications for the eighth annual "Western History Dissertation Workshop,"which will be held on May 25, 2013 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

We will pay travel expenses for up to five graduate students working on dissertations exploring the history and culture of the American West. Participants will have the opportunity to present a chapter at the workshop and to receive feedback from other participants and from scholars affiliated with the sponsoring institutions.

To apply, please send a cover letter and the abstract of the dissertation to Virginia Scharff Please also arrange for your dissertation adviser to send a letter of recommendation by email to the same address; that letter should describe how much of the thesis has been completed to date.  Applications are to be received by March 22nd; participants will be notified of their selection by April 15.