I visited the Smoking River Pow Wow’s Web site [www.smokingriverpowwow.com] yesterday. The executive summary (the part where they say what they are doing) under the organizational information link reads worse than some 19th century missionary’s letter home:
“Tribal culture and history are deeply tied to these sacred places; yet sadly, native visits to the White River Valley’s sites are constrained by the area’s tragic history and the psychological barrier that history imposes. Smoking River Pow Wow seeks to create an annual event that welcomes all Native American communities, particularly Utes; and breaks down these barriers as it encourages tribal members to become reacquainted with the White River Valley and the Flat Tops Wilderness before tribal histories are lost.”
It takes a lot of cultural arrogance (and, I might add, ignorance) for members of a colonial culture to position themselves as the “keepers” of tribal tradition with the power to return it before it is irrevocably lost. The Utes have a clear sense of their tribal history and identity that is fortunately not dependent upon the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management interpretation — exactly what the monument at Milk Creek indicates.
Visitors to the Web site can become an “eagle plume sponsor” for “3,000 and up,” a “gold sponsor” (Is that Black Hills gold?) for a mere $1,000 to $2,900 and a “silver sponsor” for under $950 — categories so enticing that for a brief moment I fantasized about clicking a silver sponsor button, fully hoping that Captain Meriwether Lewis would pop up on a new screen and hand me a silver coin with Thomas Jefferson’s face stamped on it. (I could, however, do without the speech putting me under the “protection” of the Great Father.)
But, I wanted to know more. If I purchased the “silver sponsor” option, would this newfound generosity on the part of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management be extended by my silver sponsorship to include tribal consultation for federal actions taken on public lands as required by the National Historic Preservation Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, Executive Order 12875, Executive Order 12898, Executive Order 13007, Executive Order 13084 and Executive Order 13175? After all, one would think that the keepers of tribal histories might afford the tribes the decency of respecting their current legal rights that actually require such consultation.
Would the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management use my hard-earned mad money to establish and implement a tribal consultation process with the Utes? (After all, Pueblo of Sandia v. United States has demonstrated that a letter inviting consultation, followed by a briefing of events to follow does not fulfill legal requirements for consultation.)
Would the BLM/ WRFO then make a “good faith” effort to consult with official representatives of the Ute Nation as it “develops” the proposed Resource Management Plan Amendment and would the Bureau of Land Management consult with the Ute Nation on all proposed actions on federal lands that effect their Indigenous homelands? Or, would that require a “gold sponsorship?”
If I drained the bank, hocked the horses and sold my 1985 Dodge Ram to purchase an “eagle plume sponsorship,” would the BLM/WRFO tell me what percentage of proposed actions they consulted with the Utes about? Could I have a promotional poster in the brochure that explained the legal requirements for tribal consultation and a link to a Web site that reminded these federal agencies about statutory requirements and an ad in the paper, too? Whew-weeee!
But, then I realized that probably the “big cheese” sponsorships have probably already been sold to the kindly folks from Texas that are helping the Bureau of Land Management develop Indigenous Ute homelands and current ranch properties for oil and gas. My bad. I’ll settle for gold or below.
Still, the possibilities seem delicious. But, at the end of the day, I am sure that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management will say that they and the Smoking River Powwow are separate entities and all the smoke and mirrors are just preludes to real, substantive environmental and social justice. Or, at least that’s what I might hear when I call the Forest Service number listed on all the promotional materials. I, for one, would rather see my tax dollars spent to fulfill the law, and, after that, the silver sponsorship sure looks good, if it leads to real change and I get my Meriwether Lewis silver dollar.
Clearly, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are willing to appoint themselves saviors of tribal history, but are they willing to afford the Utes their legal rights to consultation under federal law?