Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Most of the time, my perseverations rotate between family, food, bikes, and combinations of the three. Lately, I've been thinking a disporportionate amount about Southeastern Utah. You should skip this one if wrestling with small town issues isn't your thing. I was born and raised in Southeastern Utah - in Blanding. Blanding is a town that was founded by Mormon settlers sent from St. George. The vast majority of the people who stay in the town for more than a year or two are descendents of those original settlers. At least tangential descendents. The student body at the local schools reflects this. Blanding is also near both a Ute resevervation and the Navajo Nation. As a result, the other significant group that attend the local schools are native americans. My family moved to Blanding in 1971 and frankly, I'm not sure what kept us there. Since we were neither native nor really white, it seems we were caught between the two groups. Friends of mine from Blanding may challenge that assertion, but I'm pretty sure they never had a girl they were sweet on tell them, "My grandma, and I guess my dad, don't want me to see you anymore because you're . . .mmm . . . well . . . you know . . . not white." I also doubt they ever had to stand up in front of the class and proclaim they were the pineapple capital of the world. I'm glad I grew up in Blanding - for good or bad it shaped me. I've made friends that will last a life time. Some of the best people anywhere live there. However, as time marches on, my feelings about the town have become mixed as I think about generations-old, town-wide issues of racism, xenophobia, and family cliquishness. And never more so than the last couple of weeks. The FBI recently conducted raids in which 24 people from Blanding were arrested for violating the Antiquities Resource Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA) and/or the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The actual raids and arrests were ugly enough, but the fallout is more far-reaching as many people from the area take one position and the Salt Lake media and others (including many who aren't familiar with the area) are taking a position that is the polar opposite. Both positions are based on over-simplifications, exaggerations, and name-calling. What's worse, the simplifications and exaggerations appear to be based on a lack of understanding of either the law, a desire to sensationalize, or both. This past weekend I loaded the family up and headed to Blanding so my kids could spend some time with their grandma. As I sat watching the parade, I overheard the comments of several people on the whole situation. Unfortunately, in general it seems that the raids polarized people there in such a way that they feel entitled, even proud, of the xenophobia and racism that had previously lurked just beneath the surface. Although many of the residents remain grounded, it seems like the area has taken a step backward. Or maybe the only thing to change about Blanding is my perception of the place.