One of the best examples of a sacred area, not just sacred for the Archaic, Ute and Fremont people is the site known as Nine Mile Canyon. In this site we find the histories carved in the stones dating back to as much as a thousand years ago. These petroglyphs, pictographs and archaeological sites all relay the history and life of the Indigenous peoples that lived there and also of the travelers that crossed through these lands. This place has been a place to live, a sign of a rich and distant culture, and a vibrant history of westward expansion in the 1800’s. However, now this sacred site is now disappearing because of the actions of the Bill Barrett Corporation and their efforts to find more gas in the Nine Mile Canyon region of Utah. The fight to reclaim this sacred land for the Ute and other Indigenous people’s use comes in a multitude of reasons: spiritual and historical significance.
Sacred Significance of Nine Mile Canyon
The biggest thing about the Nine Mile Canyon is the amount of historical artwork on the walls. Nine Mile Canyon contains over 10,000 petroglyphs, pictographs and archaeological sites left by the Archaic, Fremont, and Ute people thousands of years ago, and as such has been called “the world’s longest art gallery” (Sacred Land Film Project). For the Ute people who have and currently inhabit this land and the lands around it, the Nine Mile Canyon means more than just an art gallery. “This is our church; These cliffs, they’re as high as any cathedral-they’re what God put here.” (Sacred Land Film Project) For the Ute people these pictures on the wall, “rock art”, are not just a history of their people but a “sacred memorial to the canyon.” (The Pluralism Project) Hopi, Northern Cheyenne, Ute, and various Pueblo communities have all banded together to show the world that this place is sacred and that we should all revere the place for its unrivaled glimpse into native art and cultutre, as well as its stunning natural beauty. (Sacred Land Film Project) As much as other Indigenous peoples have found it helpful to use stories to record the histories and stories of their time, the Ute and other local Indigenous people found this beautiful natural canvas of sorts to express the love and stories of their tribes to everyone who viewed this place in their time and beyond. For them, the human experience making this site sacred was not enough. They used the carvings and other artwork to help draw the audiences of the future into experiencing this site as sacred.
Above Photo Credit: http://climb-utah.com/Misc/ninemile.htm
Above Photo Credit: http://www.sacredland.org/wp-content/gallery/nine-mile-canyon/ninemile_top_photo.jpg
Historical Significance of Nine Mile Canyon
One of the big ways that non-Indigenous people view this site as sacred is with the history that this sacred site has with the pioneering days of the 17th century. This canyon was the stopping place for many travellers. This gorgeous landscape may have been the stopping place for stagecoach pioneers, given the signs of stagecoach stations, cabins and iron telegraph poles erected by “Buffalo Soldiers” in the 1800s. (Sacred Lands Film Project) This site not only appears sacred to the Ute and other Indigenous peoples in the Utah area, but also appeal to a very strong secular ideal for most of us. The ideal of travelling West to make a name for yourself.
Above Photo Credit: https://southwestbackcountry.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/100_7369.jpg
The Threat To Nine Mile Canyon
One of the biggest threats to the Nine Mile Canyon is the fact that the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) manages about 79% of the property that Nine Mile Canyon is on. Most of this is leased out to a Denver based firm, Bill Barrett Corporation that has in recent years begun the process of extracting natural gas from under the canyon. (The Pluralism Project) This, along with the fact that Nine Mile Canyon has about 66 billion cubic feet of gas under it, which could mean up to 410 million dollars (The Pluralism Project) makes this a contested space. One of the big controversies is the real impact of what the Bill Barrett Corp is doing to the landscape in order to find the natural gas. On the one hand, Bill Barrett is saying that the operations that they are conducting are all in the mindset of the doing the least amount of damage to the rock art. They mentioned the fact that they used their “thumper trucks”, trucks that send small explosives down drilled out shafts in the canyon, at a safe distance of 100 feet away from “cultural sites” determined in their preliminary layout of the canyon. (The Pluralism Project) However, according to environmental experts like SUWA (Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance), Sierra Club, and the NRDC (Natural Resource Defense Council) the Bill Barrett Corporation has grossily underestimated the damage that would be caused by the trucks, even with the so-called precautions that the Bill Barrett Corporation has said they have put into place. Another aspect of the “preliminary investigations” that Bill Barrett Corporation missed was about hundreds to thousands of other unaccounted for “cultural sites” that do not at all meet the established code of legislation like the American Antiquities Act of 1906, the National Historic Preservation Act, and others. (The Pluralism Project)
In 2004, the environmental groups listed above sued the Department of the Interior for neglecting to consider the provisions established by previous legislation. (The Pluralism Project) The problem with this law suit was the fact that the Court, of which the judge was a more environmentallly conscious people, failed to recognize the fact that the issue lied in the lack of real world application that the large quantity of “provisions” that Bill Barrett set aside for the sacred land and not the fac tthat Bill Barrett Corporation had not set aside provisions for the land.
Current Status of the Nine Mile Canyon
A few things have gone into place in the fight for the Nine Mile Canyon. One of the big things that happened was the Obama administration signaled a possible new direction for Nine Mile Canyon when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar cancelled oil and gas drilling leases on 77 parcels of Utah land, inlcuding some around Nine Mile Canyon. (Sacred Film Project) The big issue is the fact that most of the efforts of the supporters of the Nine Mile Canyon are running into is rooted in the fact that most of the actions that they are fighting for would only protect specific sections of the canyon, rather than designate a historic district that would respect the integrity of the canyon as a sacred landscape.
If you would like to know more about the fight for the Nine Mile Canyon, please visit this website:
November 1st, 2004. “Nine Mile Canyon”. http://www.sacredland.org/nine-mile-canyon/
2004. “Nine Mile Canyon, UT (Ute and Others) (2004)”. http://www.pluralism.org/reports/view/166
Rock Art Photo Link: http://climb-utah.com/Misc/ninemile.htm
Nine Mile Canyon Photo Link: http://www.sacredland.org/wp-content/gallery/nine-mile-canyon/ninemile_top_photo.jpg
Wagon Grease Signature Photo Link: https://southwestbackcountry.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/100_7369.jpg