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Public Lands, Private Hands

  • Slought 4017 Walnut Street, 19104 (map)

Slought and the Penn Social Justice & Arts Integration Initiative are pleased to announce "Public Lands, Private Hands," a gathering of tribal leaders and community activists from Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona speaking about indigenous and settler land use and the Bears Ears National Monument, on Thursday, May 9, 2019 from 6:30-9pm. The participants will speak about the importance of the Bears Ears National Monument debate, and about their relation to the sacred lands on which they live. This event is free and open to the public, and will include a public reception. The discussion will be moderated by Jaskiran Dhillon, co-editor of the forthcoming Standing with Standing Rock: Voices from the #NoDAPL Movement.

In 1848, the territory of Utah was ceded from Mexico to the United States. Twenty-five years later the United States government established the first national park, Yellowstone. President Barack Obama created the latest national preserve, Bears Ears National Monument, in 2016, after concerted petitioning from Utah Diné Bikéyah, an indigenous non-profit, and a coalition of five tribes, the Ute, Ute Mountain, Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni, concerned about land sovereignty in their traditional territories. The land protection for Bears Ears was significantly reduced in 2017. Public lands are under constant threat of development, and removing one million acres from Bears Ears puts these lands at risk.

This gathering seeks to think collectively about how best to protect these precious lands and will therefore consist of a wide-ranging conversation about issues of sovereignty, long histories of displacement and environmental racism, and the slow violence that attends unequal distribution of land and infrastructure in these desert lands. The origin of this gathering began in a collaboration with photographer Fazal Sheikh, whose recent project, Exposures, documents the ruination of the Utah landscape by uranium mining, oil and gas extraction, and the militarization of the desert. Sheikh's work traces a long history of exploration and settlement, debates over the privatization of public lands for resource extraction, and the costly consequences of these ventures on native communities and on this wondrous landscape.