As noted in multiple previous posts, students at the University of Puget Sound can compete for funding to support their summer research endeavors. Our department’s students were particularly successful in past years, and again this year we’ve had numerous proposals successfully funded. In short, the AHSS Summer Research Awards, varying from $3250 to $3750, allow students to pursue an in-depth research project over the summer months. I’ve asked each of this year’s batch of students to tell us a little bit about what they’ll be doing with their time, energy, and grant monies in the coming summer. Here’s what Ana Siegel had to say about her new project:
Though initially overlooked by Euro-American settlers as an arid wasteland, the Four Corners region of the American Southwest has historically been held sacred to countless stakeholders, specifically those with a pro-conservation stance. Many of the region’s indigenous groups—including the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, Uinta, and the Ouray Ute—attribute immense cultural significance to the land, as many of their traditional territories, reservations, and sources of cultural heritage lie in the region. For outdoor recreants, the region is a haven for climbing and trekking; for locals, the land has been used for generations of cattle grazing. Yet, in the last hundred-or-so years, the Four Corners region has been recognized for its natural resource extraction potential, as it is rich in uranium, vanadium, oil, and coal deposits. As a result of the conflicting cultural and economic interests, this region has often been played as a battlefield between contesting groups, toiled over by those who wish to either capitalize upon, or to protect those assets. Bears Ears National Monument is one such landmark, of which has recently come to the forefront of this familiar quarrel. After years of advocacy and petitioning of the federal government, in 2016, the Obama Administration placed Bears Ears under federal protection, by means of the Antiquities Act. But, on December 4, 2017, President Donald Trump made the executive decision to drastically reduce the land protected by Bears Ears National Monument, by 85%. Paired with the simultaneous reduction of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, this ruling was “the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history” (Turkewitz 2017).
There seems to be a vast disconnect between the understandings and interests of the seemingly-economically-driven decision-makers, and those of the pro-conservation stakeholders; my research will bridge that disconnect by not only drawing attention to, but also making more legible, the narratives of those pro-conservation stakeholders. With this disconnect in mind, the aim of my research is to explore the ways the shifting status, and resulting vulnerability, of Bears Ears has affected the relationship–the sense of place–that connects pro-conservation stakeholders–such as the region’s indigenous groups, environmentalists, outdoor recreants, and locals–to this landmark of the Four Corners region.
Over the course of the summer, I will be spending time conducting fieldwork in Southeastern Utah; I will be working alongside pro-conservation stakeholders, using varying qualitative ethnographic research methods—conducting semi-structured interviews, engaging in participant observation, as well as organizing transect walks—to explore the ways in which these stakeholders’ relationships are shifting along with the shifting status of the National Monument.The ultimate goal of this research coincides with the fields of public and applied anthropology: I intend to both highlight and amplify these voices by creating a platform, that will be legible to the public and policymakers, through which pro-conservation stakeholders can vocalize their resistance to the reduction, as well as elucidate the reasoning behind their impassioned campaign to protect Bears Ears.
We’re so excited for you, Ana, and can’t wait to see how your research develops once you get to Moab. We’ll look for an update from you in a few months!