Canyon Country Discovery Center Discussion Series on Bears Ears Region


The Canyon Country Discovery Center in Monticello, Utah has embarked on a program to engender community dialogue based on shared understanding of what the public lands in southeastern Utah mean to the people who live here. The discussions will take place at the Canyon Country Discovery Center throughout 2018, and will include speakers and panels focused on four major themes: 


(1) the history of human habitation on the Plateau, from the Paleo-Indian epoch, through the arrival of Spanish explorers and Mormon settlers;

(2) the natural history of the Colorado Plateau from the formation of the Earth to the current day;

(3) the history of public lands and their uses from late-1880s to the present; and 

(4) the belief systems and teachings of both Mormons and Native peoples regarding the care and use of the land.

Speakers have been selected both for their expertise and for their commitment to advancing constructive dialogue. 

As background to these discussions, the Canyon Country Discovery Center has mounted an exhibition comprising photographs taken by Stephen Strom within the Bears Ears National Monument region along with audio clips of interviews with people from the area and quotes expressing a variety of views about public lands.

CCDC Photo Exhibit
Canyon Country Discovery Center Bears Ears Exhibit

While debates about monument boundaries and executive authority may take years to resolve, these discussions aim to focus on shared beliefs about this area and attempt to deepen understanding of the richness and complexity of public lands issues in the United States today. The series kicked off on April 26 with a discussion of human habitation on the Colorado Plateau. More than 70 individuals participated in the event, which comprised three presentations followed by a reception during which spirited discussions continued.

A brief summary of the three segments of the April 26th discussion is included below.

Jonathan Till (archaeologist; curator of collections at the Edge of the Cedars State Park in Blanding, UT)

Till reviewed the arrival of human settlers on the Colorado Plateau and their evolution from hunter-gatherers, to farmers, to linked settlements that represented the first urban developments on the Plateau. 

Till emphasized that his version of human history prior to European arrival represented a western-view, and that a fuller picture of changes in cultural values and causes of migration require an integration of Native histories with western archaeology and anthropology.

Preservation of archaeological sites, graves, and artifacts throughout the Colorado Plateau is essential if a full understanding of pre-Columbian history is to be achieved.

Winston Hurst (archaeologist from Blanding)

Winston Hurst

Hurst reviewed efforts to reconstruct the history of Native Americans prior to the arrival of Europeans, and the intersection of Native cultures with the arrival of Mormon settlers in the latter half of the 19th century. He went on to describe the sometimes friendly, often fraught interaction between Natives and Mormons in what now is San Juan County. He spoke from his personal history as a descendant of Mormon pioneers who participated in artifact collection--n accepted part of the culture when Hurst was young. He recounted the long history of vandalism of archaeological sites and the resulting fraught interactions between the Anglo population of San Juan County and agents of the Federal Government intent on prosecuting looters. He noted that when he speaks he feels the need to call for repentance, for Mormons to acknowledge the mistakes of the past and accept responsibility for change moving forward. 

Hurst echoed Tills comments regarding the importance of preserving artifacts spanning a wide landscape rather than a few isolated sites. 

Robert McPherson (historian, Utah State University, Blanding)

Rather than provide a detailed history, McPherson chose to capture the cultural importance of ranching to the County through recitation of a selection of poems. The poems evoked the challenges – physical and psychological – of ranching in a harsh climate, where the land required to feed livestock spans enormous ranges, and where seasonal temperature variations demand moving cattle and sheep from valley to mountains in spring, and the reverse as winter approaches. Though laced with humor, the poems made clear the commitment required to ranch, and the deep bond between rancher and land.

                                                 Canyon Country Discovery Center 

                                                 Canyon Country Discovery Center 

The next of four discussions in the Canyon Country Discovery Center series is scheduled for May 31, 2018 at 6:30pm and will focus on the natural history of the Colorado Plateau - From Earth’s Formation to Today. Scheduled speakers include Cari Johnson (Professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah); John Foster (Paleontologist-Museum of Moab); and Stephen Strom (Astronomer Emeritus, National Optical Astronomy Observatory)