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Make peace with past in your own way

The day after participating in the first Wisdom Works series at CMC entitled “Everything is Connected,” a special blessing came my way. Though I’ve come to expect unusual things to occur while hanging out with Northern Ute Elder Clifford, every adventure with him is a delightful surprise that calls for some good-natured humor. “Bill,” Clifford said as we got into his truck, “I think I’m starting to get used to you.” The usual mischievous smile followed. The fact that we have been working together for more than a decade made it quite funny. We both had been invited on a tour of a special place being reclaimed after a time of neglect between ownership changes. It’s one thing to have a secret place in the outdoors that we like to retreat to as often as we can. But it is an entirely different matter when you put blood, sweat and tears into reclaiming a piece of earth.Knowing how hard it is to keep even a small garden in our backyard when the deer take more than their fair share causes me to marvel at someone taking on the restoration of a large ranch. On our way up the canyon to meet our guide for the appointed tour, Clifford pronounces different Ute sounds out loud. He is trying to figure out the Ute word that matches the Americanized Indian name of our destination. What most people in our dominant culture don’t realize is how crafty we are at perverting aboriginal place names. When explorers and settlers first encountered Ute names they understandably had great difficulty pronouncing or writing them correctly. So, shortened versions became used that were easier to say. A big smile came over Clifford’s face when he finally put the Ute words in the right order. The translation into English resulted in the meaning of “rivers coming together.”Entering into the entrance of the ranch, we got out of the truck and were checked out by the guard dog that let us pass. Our hostess welcomed us warmly, and we began our tour, which for now must remain private. We were there to help reconnect a special place with the wisdom of the Ute language. This, owners felt, was an appropriate cleansing part of the healing process they had already begun. It’s often hard for us humans to admit that we need healing or that the land we walk upon has been wounded and needs cleansing. The truth is, when the Ute People were removed from Colorado in the late 1800s, it was a violent separation from what had been their homeland for thousands of years. In the forced march to a reservation in Utah, those who fell behind were shot and left for dead. Didn’t read that in your Colorado history books? I wonder why. Make peace with the past in your own way or pass the open wounds of conflict, unhealed after generations, on to our children’s children. Giving Ute names back to the Earth is a small but important beginning.Writing from 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies and helping reconnect indigenous people with the earth, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories and thoughts with readers every other week.


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