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Finding your sacred places and defending them

Locations: News Published

It is no secret that our public lands are the crown jewel of the Roaring Fork Valley. To walk outside and witness nature at its finest is a gift many of us enjoy after a long work week; from alpine skiing to whitewater rafting, there is no limit of outdoor adventure.

But how do we tap into a greater appreciation for our natural surroundings? How do we protect the lands we hold so close to our hearts?

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On Feb. 29, the Carbondale Branch Library will host Dr. Andrew Gulliford, professor of History and Environmental Studies at Fort Lewis College in Durango, for a discussion on Native American sacred places and how we, as a society, can give back to the  land.

“We now, thanks to the voters, have a budget for programming,” Librarian Lacy Dunlavy said. “We were trying to think of topics all of us were interested in, and one thing we constantly hear about in our communities is history. Dr. Gulliford has so many different topics he can talk about, so it’s really exciting to bring him here and fulfill the need for local history.”

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With the approval of Proposition 6A, Garfield County Libraries now have the financial means to bring in experts from outside of the community. While Carbondale has always had an extensive network of local experts, Dunlavy is excited to facilitate new and diverse learning opportunities at the library.

Gulliford, however, is no stranger to the valley. As a 4th grade teacher in Silt during the late 1970s, Gulliford fostered an appreciation for history in his students when he assigned oral history interviews with local residents. For Dr. Gulliford, it sparked the beginning of a long and rich career as a respected American West historian.

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Since then, Gulliford has become an accomplished author focusing on key American West topics in his books “America’s Country Schools,” “Sacred Objects and Sacred Places: Preserving Tribal Traditions,” “Boomtown Blues: Colorado Oil Shale” (Colorado Book Award winner), and “Outdoors in the Southwest: An Adventure Anthology” (2014 winner of the Arizona/New Mexico Book Award and Colorado Book Award winner).

Most recently, Gulliford’s book “The Woolly West: Colorado’s Hidden History of Sheepscapes”  (2019 Colorado Book Award winner and Outstanding Nonfiction award during the 2019 Western Heritage Awards) unveiled the historical archeology of sheep herding in the cattle-dominated high country.

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As a dynamic historian, Gulliford brings a wealth of knowledge to help piece together the intricate connection between man and place.

“It is so important to understand native peoples’ perspectives,” he said. “What is their philosophy? Why is a place considered sacred? At Fort Lewis College, 40 percent of the students are Native American. I have been able to get perspectives from students and what is important to them.”

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In “Sacred Objects and Sacred Places,” Gulliford compiled 10 years of research in which he traveled 1000s of miles meeting with tribal elders, archeologists, and non-native curators to highlight cultural preservation issues that are essential to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiins.

While visiting sacred tribal places, Gulliford discovered that the preservation of sacred objects, such as medicine bundles and masks and the repatriation of human remains, are essential to keeping native culture alive in a constantly modernizing world.

“I am a strong advocate for public lands,” he said. “The valley is so important, and we need to slow down and realize value doesn’t have a price tag. Native sacred places can be thousands of years old. How do we preserve them for the next 800 years? Leave No Trace and understanding how we move through landscapes is the protection.”

At Gulliford’s talk, attendees can expect to hear more about his experiences and case studies in places such as the Wyoming Medicine Wheel, Devil’s Tower National Monument, Mount Shasta in California, Mount Graham in Arizona, and the Sweet Grass Hills in Montana.

With the intention of raising awareness and preservation of sacred objects and places, Dr. Gulliford encourages open-dialogue and audience participation. Additionally, Gulliford plans to provide updates on Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Escalante National Monument — two sacred places that he is heavily involved with both conservationally and legally.

“I am still learning,” Gulliford said. “Our ancestors and forefathers had silence, solitude, and darkness — we don’t anymore. I encourage people to get farther out and take a hike. Think about what we give back and continue to protect and preserve as the volume of people increases especially in sacred places. Find your place, dig in, and defend it.”

Let’s Talk About History: Native American Sacred Places

Who: Dr. Andrew Gulliford


When: 4:30 p.m. Feb. 29

Where: Carbondale Branch Library (320 S. Third St.)

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