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Birthplace, homeland not same

Common GroundBill Kight

Two words have always fascinated me for their meaning to us as human beings. Taken separately, “home” and “land” convey powerful images and evoke strong emotions. Combined as “homeland,” you have an even more thought-provoking word.Wars have been fought, indeed are being fought today, for the right to return to one’s place of birth or the birthplace of their own ethnic group. Perhaps that is where the term “birthright” comes from. But for me, where I was born is not my homeland.My heritage was forcefully conferred by a group of strangers who thought it was their destiny, manifest somehow to them by none other than God, to drive off indigenous people.I’ve been to Oklahoma and the land my People called home is occupied by others who claim it as their own. Besides, my relatives only ended up there after being forced to march along a Trail of Tears.A recent journey to the place of my birth for the grim task of burying my mother convinced me of one thing: I want to be cremated and my ashes scattered over my homeland, that part of the Colorado Plateau called the Flat Tops.Don’t bury me in the cold ground of a land in which I do not belong.There is no way of telling in written words why I know the Flat Tops is my homeland – why I belong here – but allow me to try with one story:Being one of those supposedly rare people whose job is what they feel is also their calling is the best place to start.You have to be willing to follow that still-small voice in your heart that turns dreams into reality against all other voices screaming at you. Go ahead and say it to yourself. No one else is listening. “He hears things.” Yep, partner. You got that right.Twenty years ago I was walking along the Ute Trail in the Flat Tops doing my job when the land spoke to me. It was a question, not a command.”Where are those who belong on this trail?” That was it. No bells rang. No burning bush. No light knocked me to the ground. But I knew what had to be done.It took time and lots of help to find the descendants of the Utes who lived here for thousands of years and reconnect them to their homeland.One of the great blessings from that effort came one late fall day on the Flat Tops near Bison Lake.A bald eagle had landed in a tree ahead of us and then flew along the Old Ute Trail we were walking upon. A sudden but brief storm blew snowflakes straight at us.After a long silence, one of the two Ute men spoke against the wind but directly to me in words I’ll never forget.”I thank you and my family thanks you for what you have done for us.”At that moment the land became my home.Writing with more than 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week.


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