Ute Land Religion in the American West, 1879-2009

Ute Land Religion in the American West, 1879-2009

Ute Land Religion in the American West, 1879-2009

Ute Land Religion in the American West, 1879-2009

Synopsis

Ute Land Religion in the American West, 1879-2009 is a narrative of American religion and how it intersected with land in the American West. Prior to 1881, Utes lived on the largest reservation in North America--twelve million acres of western Colorado. Brandi Denison takes a broad look at the Ute land dispossession and resistance to disenfranchisement by tracing the shifting cultural meaning of dirt, a physical thing, into land, an abstract idea. This shift was made possible through the development and deployment of an idealized American religion based on Enlightenment ideals of individualism, Victorian sensibilities about the female body, and an emerging respect for diversity and commitment to religious pluralism that was wholly dependent on a separation of economics from religion.

As the narrative unfolds, Denison shows how Utes and their Anglo-American allies worked together to systematize a religion out of existing ceremonial practices, anthropological observations, and Euro-American ideals of nature. A variety of societies then used religious beliefs and practices to give meaning to the land, which in turn shaped inhabitants' perception of an exclusive American religion. Ultimately, this movement from the tangible to the abstract demonstrates the development of a normative American religion, one that excludes minorities even as they are the source of the idealized expression.

Excerpt

Clifford Duncan remembered that as a child he was taken by his parents on car rides from their home on the Uintah-Ouray Ute Reservation. They would drive around the small town of Meeker, Colorado, nestled in the White River Valley in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, and tell him: “There is where it was. This is where it happened.” His parents were referring to an 1879 confrontation between their ancestors, Ute Indians, and United States government officials that resulted in numerous Ute and non-Ute deaths and initiated Ute removal from western Colorado. Duncan’s parents identified strongly with the small town, but they rarely stopped the car to visit. Instead, Duncan experienced this region through his family’s oral history remembering the violence that separated his people from their sacred homeland. As the elders’ memories faded away, younger generations sought out this fading past. This hushed history instilled a longing in Duncan to return to the place “where it was, where it happened” and created an identity for him as a Ute, perpetually separated from home.

Children who grow up in Meeker learn a conflicting version of the region’s history by either participating in or observing the seventy-fiveyear-old performance of the “Meeker Massacre Pageant” every Fourth of July. the narrative of the pageant is that in 1878 Nathan Meeker, a United States Indian agent, came to the White River Valley to help the . . .

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