The Southwest

United States of America

The 2021 Field Stations program will take place in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado in the Southwest Region of the United States. The Southwest is a complex interface of extreme geographical conditions, from high peaks and arid canyons to the basins and mesas that comprise the Colorado Plateau. The heart of this region gives rise to two major river systems: The Colorado flows west out of the Rocky Mountains and ultimately joins with the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of California. The Rio Grande flows south from its headwaters in the San Juan range of the Rockies on its way to the Atlantic Ocean at the Gulf of Mexico. Together, they support vast ecosystems, irrigate extensive agricultural lands and supply water to millions of people.

Across these two river systems, a complex history of Indigenous land stewardship and settler colonialism has unfolded. For over 12,000 years the region has served as the traditional territories and ancestral homelands of Indigenous Peoples, including the Diné (Navajo Nation), Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ (Ute Nation), Apache, Southern Pueblo, Laguna and Zuni Peoples. Today it is home to the largest concentration of Indigenous Nations within the US. To view the homelands of Indigenous Peoples in this region, visit the Native Lands Map here.

Spanish settlers first traveled to the region in the 1500s, followed by the French and later U.S.-American settlers who arrived in large numbers to the Southern Rocky Mountains in the 1860s, attracted by mining and agricultural prospects. In the past fifty years the urban population of the Southwest has exploded, as diverse groups of people have moved into the region looking for opportunity.

Between 1901 and 2016, the average temperature in the Southwest region has increased by 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The San Juan Mountain region in Colorado has warmed by 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 30 years, the fastest rate of climate change in the United States outside of Alaska. Effects of climate change in this region are now observed in the form of larger and more severe wildfire, prolonged drought, decreased snowpack, food and economic insecurity and increased risks to human health.1

From the Rio Grande to the San Juan Basin

Our studies will begin in Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city. Albuquerque sits along the Rio Grande River and faces many of the challenges of the urban southwest, including the interactions of expanding populations and limited water resources.

From Albuquerque we will travel north over the Continental Divide and into the San Juan Basin, a watershed that feeds the Colorado River. Our studies will focus on the divergent land use priorities and conflicts along the Animas River, a major tributary of the San Juan River that originates in the peaks around Silverton, Colorado. From Silverton the Animas flows south out of the mountains, through Durango, Colorado and on to agricultural lands around Farmington, New Mexico, where it joins the San Juan. The Farmington area has been called Tótah by Diné Peoples, meaning “between the waters” in recognition of its role as a life sustaining place.2

Within the San Juan watershed evidence of mineral and resource extraction industries is always close by. Commercial mining beginning in the 19th century transformed the Southwest into an important hub for extraction and energy projects. These activities both facilitated the forced removal and dispossession of Indigenous peoples and caused ongoing environmental degradation. 3Uranium mining, coal-fired power plants and oil and natural gas have produced boom economies, but they also inflict disproportionate community health impacts and economic instability. The region now faces a reckoning with energy transition as coal-fired power plants are slated for closure and oil and gas industries have moved to other fields.4

Land Acknowledgment

The Wright-Ingraham Institute (WII) is a research and grant-making organization with roots in the state of Colorado. Although we are not currently based in one specific territory, we will host the 2021 Field Stations program in and around Durango, Colorado, the ancestral homes and territories of the Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ (Ute Nation), Apache, the Pueblos, Hopi, Zuni, and the Diné (Navajo) Nation. We find it important to acknowledge these original People’s traditional and ancestral homelands. The WII recognizes the need for continuous Indigenous stewardship of these lands in order to honor multiple perspectives on landscape, culture and science. We also recognize the many Indigenous contributions to architecture, art, science, engineering, mathematics and land stewardship in the Southwest region of the San Juan Mountains.

In recognition of the responsibility that comes with a land acknowledgment, we look forward to ongoing and collaborative dialogue about the impacts of settler colonialism on the Indigenous Nations of the Southwest during fieldwork in 2021.

1 Garfin, Gregg M., Patrick Gonzalez, David Breshears, Keely Brooks, Heidi E. Brown, Emile Elias, Amrith Gunasekara, et al. 2018. “Chapter 25 : Southwest. Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II.” U.S. Global Change Research Program.

2 Teresa Montoya. 2016. “Tó Łisto / Yellow Water.” Ethnographic Terminalia.

3 Jonathan Thompson. 2018. “The Dark Secrets of the Animas River.” High Country News, May 28, 2018.

4 Jonathan Thompson. 2019. “New Mexico’s ‘mini’ Green New Deal, Dissected.” High Country News, March 25, 2019.

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