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Episode 3 : ‘You Can’t Erase Us’: Shoshone and Ute Connections to Great Salt Lake

Updated: May 13

Rios Pacheo is standing on Antelope Island with the Great Salt Lake and Wastach Mountain behind him. He is holding dolls and a baby carrier that were made with materials collected on the island while looking out west.

(Rios Pacheco, the cultural and history advisor for the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation)

 (Forrest S. Cuch, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe and former director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs standing by warm spring hot spring near Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City, with a mountain goat necklace on, a black baseball hat looking west towards the great salt lake

 (Forrest S. Cuch, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe and former director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs.)

For time immemorial, the Goshute, Paiute, Shoshone, and Ute people have called the Great Salt Lake Basin home. In this episode of Stay Salty, we learn about Shoshone and Ute connections to Great Salt Lake. We talk with Rios Pacheco, the cultural and history advisor for the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, and Forrest S. Cuch, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe and former director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs. Pacheco and Cuch share the importance of Great Salt Lake to their people and how colonization has impacted that relationship. 

As we ask who gets to stay (or leave), we must remember this question is not new for Indigenous people who have been forcibly removed from the Great Salt Lake Basin. 

Below is a transcript for Episode 3 of Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories.

Forrest Cuch: If you look at the early Mormon settlers' theology, they wanted to think that this was a virgin land that was not occupied by any people so that they could basically claim it as their promised land. And the presence of the Utes, Shoshones, and Goshutes kind of interrupted that narrative. And it's been, I think, avoided. The dominant culture kind of doesn't like to deal with that. They would rather sweep that under the rug. And I think that's a mistake. You only heal if you address the truth. You have to face the truth in order to begin to build a true relationship.


Olivia Juarez: That was Forrest S Cuch, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe.  In this podcast, we explore what it means to stay with Great Salt Lake as decades of drought and unsustainable water use threaten her life. In this episode of Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories, we speak with Mr. Cuch and Rios Pacheco, the cultural and history advisor for the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, to learn about Ute and Shoshone people’s relationships with Great Salt Lake and how colonization has impacted those relationships.


Several years ago, I was shocked by a short dystopian film about our apocalypse. Children were playing outside in their suburban neighborhood when sirens started screaming across the valley. Frantic parents called their kids inside their homes and stuffed towels into their door seals as an opaque plume of toxic dust swallowed the Salt Lake Valley. Great Salt Lake’s death would be an apocalypse. But we have to remember: this would not be the first apocalypse that Indigenous people to the Great Salt Lake Basin have seen. 

Our thinking on this is informed by Kyle Whyte, a professor at the University of Michigan and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, who wrote an article in 2018 for Yes Magazine! He said for many Indigenous peoples in North America, we are already living in what our ancestors would have understood as dystopian or post-apocalyptic times. In a cataclysmically short period, the capitalist–colonialist partnership has destroyed our relationships with thousands of species and ecosystems.

If you want to read more, the story is titled “White Allies, Let’s Be Honest About Decolonization.” We’ll include a link in the show notes. 

If Great Salt Lake dries up, everyone in our community has to answer these questions: can I stay? Could I even leave? But this is not a new question for displaced peoples. 

Please stick with us to learn more about the ways that colonization has disrupted Indigenous people’s connections with Great Salt Lake, and how some tribes are also reclaiming that relationship and their ancestral lands. 

I’m Olivia Juarez. You’re listening to Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories


OJ: In March, we went to the Visitor Center at Antelope Island to speak with Rios Pacheco, the cultural and history advisor for the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.

Rios Pacheco: My name is Rios Pacheco, and I've lived in Brigham City pretty much my whole life. And right now I work with the Northwest Band of Shoshone and I'm the cultural and history advisor. And also I do all the spiritual blessings and ceremonies for the tribe. And I've attended the art school in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Institute. And I've also done different lectures at the different universities in Utah during their Native American Heritage Week. 

OJ: What is your personal relationship with Great Salt Lake and what does Great Salt Lake mean to you?

RP: A lot of the things that I'm reminded of the lake is how our people use the outside border of the lake. It was a place that we traveled from place to place along the shores of the lake because all the different freshwater river tributaries and creeks ran into the lakes so that gave a lot of our people places to find food and to be able to store food for the winter because of all the migratory birds that came in; they would hunt those and all the fishes that came in from the fresh lake to the lake. And also all the plants that live there that they could store for food for making clothing and making cordage and also making different types of items that they would use as they go from different places along the coast of the lake.

OJ: And I hear you say “was,” is this something that doesn't really happen conventionally today anymore?

RP: Well today because of how people have owned the land so much, there's not that much access to the lake, but also because of how the people have used the waters running into the lake, it hasn't made the waters clear as it was before. And because of how the migratory routes of the different birds that come in, they've changed so much because of what's happening in the world today…

Up to probably what, maybe 100, 150 years ago, we still had access to parts of the lake, just as though our ancestors lived on the lake, to gather different types of foods, different types of plants, and also to come out and fish the tributaries that come into the lake. So the access part is what deters from not using the lake. But also what deters us from not using the lake is what was put into the water that was coming into lake because it made it so that not only with the food sources not going to be available to us, but also even the animals that were there couldn't use the the water that was coming because of all the things that were brought into the lake from those tributaries because of farming and agriculture, and all the things that they use to…

OJ: the fertilizers 

RP: Yeah, to control the land and to grow their crops, they use so many chemicals in that…

And not too long ago, I'd say maybe over 120, 130 years ago that they would walk along the shore lines were Brigham City and Honeyville, Deweyville, just in northern Utah, and walk along the old shoreline of Lake Bonneville along the Wellsville mountains and gather seashells, and then they would make their buckskin dresses ornamented with the seashells.


OJ: That's beautiful. Hiking up in Mill Creek Canyon, I’ve found tiny, tiny, tiny little seashells on the trail up there…

RP: That shows evidence how far the lake was and how far it receded to today. But it was a resource place for all the Native people that lived in this area. And also later on, it became a resource area for the settlers and people moving into the area…

The Great Salt Lake was kind of like a reference point, because it was a gathering area for not just the Shoshone people, but for other tribes that came to the area. So it gave a distinct landmark. Because of that type of water it was, even though it wasn't fit to drink, it was still fit, to be able to have different plants that grew from the resources that came from the lake. And a lot of it were plants that we use for medicines, but also it helped cleanse the wounds that you had because it would take out the bacteria with that water… 

That way, you know, you wouldn't have that much of an infection. And it was just a reference to all the tribes, a place that they knew that once you pass the lake, you are going either into a desert area towards California or else you were going up into a mountain area on the east side of the lake. But then also if you head towards the south of the lake, you're going into another desert towards New Mexico. So it was a reference point to have you prepare for those journeys where you're heading off to. 

OJ: Does Antelope Island have any role as a reference point or just other significance to your people? 

RP: Back then, Antelope island would have been accessible because a lot of the water wouldn't have really covered around the whole lake. So you could be able to walk into the island. And then they also had canoes that they could row into the island. And a lot of the things that were on the island were basically useful things that they could come and gather the different plants that were there, dry them and be able to harvest them and store them and use them later. And it would be a place where different types of birds would come in. So they could harvest those birds, not just the meat on the birds, but the eggs and also the feathers to use. So it was kind of a gathering place and being able to find a place where no one else really goes through and gathers all those things. So you would be able to have your choice of what you would seek to gather because it would have just enough quantity there that it hasn't been disturbed much.

OJ: Mr. Pacheco wrote and illustrated a beautiful book called Shoshone Plants of Antelope Island. It has remarkable line drawings of plants, and their Shoshone names, and descriptions about their traditional uses. You can find it for sale at the Antelope Island State Park.. 

RP: Some of the plants are very specific to our tribe. And also it's found not just on the island, but outside the surrounding areas of the island. But I'll just give you a few like the sagebrush, the sagebrush is very valuable. I think on the island they don't grow as tall as they do on the outside of the island. But they're used for medicine, they're also used to make cordage. And also used to help cure and cleanse the wounds if you get a cut. And also to be able to make a drink that you would drink when you have colds to bring down the coughs of the cold and the fever of the colds. And will also be used to make firewood with. It was a very valuable plant, Even on the island, and also the other plants along the shores of the island, they would have cattails and they would also have willows and those are also valuable to our people because the cattail provided a year round food source from the small, long, tubular green. They're shaped like hotdogs and they're condensed with seeds in them so when they're really green. You can take those and boil them and eat those like corn on the cob. And on the inside where the leaves are, you peel the leaves off on the inside, there's like a long celery stick that you can eat like celery and just take it right from the lake. And then you can also collect the pollen and mix that and have a flower base for making a bread or even making topping for different types of foods. And what we did was gather all the roots from those and dry them out, and then grind them down and pound them to where they would become a flour and store them and use them in the winter to make flour cakes and make flour that we mixed with other plants to have a thicker flour base to make breads with. And then the willow was a valuable plant because it made a lot of the things that we carried our small children in with the cradle boards and also baskets to carry the eggs in. And one of the most important things was to make water jugs to carry the water from place to place. And what they sealed them with was pine gum so that they would be waterproof from the inside and they could store water. And those were the plants that were really valuable to our people that were also found here on the island because even though the island was separated from the mainland, they still had resources to use even here on the island as they did when they moved back to the mainland. 

OJ: Have you personally boiled the cattail or made the flour or anything like that and the cakes?

RP: Well, it was my grandmother and my mother, they used to do that, mostly our grandparents. And a lot of it I've only seen my grandmother do when I was maybe five or six. And then my mother, she would just do the ones with the willows. And they would make cradle boards or else make willowing pans where they would throw seeds in there and willow out the husks and then grind those seeds to make the flowers or else make like almost like cream of wheat out of different seeds. And even the pine nuts they would do the same thing with those and just husk the seeds from the nut and just throw them up in the willowing pan. And the wind would blow off the seeds and the meat of the nut would stay inside. 

OJ: Do you have any memories sharing this meal with your mother or grandmother or seeing them be a part of making these meals and products?   

RP: Mostly like on the island they had deer running through the island because deer would cross over the river. And then because it was a place isolated, there would be food here for them. And I've seen my mother take the deer and cut it in long strips and dry it and then put a fire with wood, hardwood, chips to smoke the meat with. And then I've also seen my mother and grandmother do the pine nuts by taking the nuts and just still in the cone and put them into a fire pit and have them open up by the heat. And then take those cones, crush them. And then have them willowed out. And then all the shells of the crushed nuts would come off. And then they would gather the nut itself and then grind them together on a stone and grind them over and then make soup or else make up pudding out of those

OJ: They all sound very delicious. Do you have a favorite?

RP: Usually the pine nut, because it has that sweet taste to it.


OJ: How has colonization impacted the Northwestern Shoshone’s relationship to Great Salt Lake and the plants and the animals that live on the lake’s shores?

RP: When people start coming into Lake, the people that first came in, they had hardships coming into the lake and into the area because they had a different type of diet. A lot of our people helped them during their hard times by sharing the plants that were edible, showing the plants that were able to help them overcome illnesses.

The other things were, they didn't know the water sources, or how to find water sources by following the animals to those water sources. 

And then what they shared with them was the knowledge of the land, and also how to take just the amount that you needed, and to be able to leave other plants for others that would follow you. But a lot of that knowledge of sharing that wasn't really followed by the people coming in, they thought they would take all they needed and even more because they thought well, there wasn't going to be anything else coming back. But what they didn't understand was if you take less, and leave the others, they seed out and they start growing again. So that you're continuing that lifecycle of the plant to help others that come after you to find those resources. 

The settlers that were coming here, it was not just for the land, but also for their religious freedom. But basically as you look at the overall picture, it all came about because of land. But yet not knowing that they should ask those that were there first about the land, and how to share it. They just took it upon themselves to just take without having that conversation of, well, there's a lot of land, how are we going to be able to use this place, and that conversation never came through.

What you got to remember is the people that they talk to weren't just one group of people, they were different groups of people with different languages. And even though they may look pretty much the same on the outside, the inside, and the voices they spoke were totally different. And how they heard the conversation of one saying, This is ours, and not yours, was not conveyed the same way. But also the conversation was not one of I guess you would say friendship. But one of saying, well, I'll give you this, but I'll take this, this, this, this. And you can have this one. And I'll take this, this, this, and maybe I'll give you a part of this one. So it wasn't a balance that was shared by everyone. 

Communication is a big part of history. It's a big part of even today, you know, people have different descriptions of even one word. And one word could change a lot of history. 

OJ: On January 29, 1863, the US Army murdered an estimated 500 Shoshone people along Bear River, or Wuda Ogwa as it is known by the Shoshone people. In 2018, the Northwestern Shoshone were able to buy back their land at Wuda Ogwa. 

RP: The Wuda Ogwa project is one that we see as being able to not just share our culture, but share our history because of a tragic event that happened there where the soldiers from Fort Douglas came and attacked the village there and massacred a lot of people…

OJ: The tribe will build a cultural interpretive center on the site to tell their story as they lead a massive restoration effort to return native and culturally important plants and animals to the area. You’ll hear more about this in a later episode, but the importance of this effort cannot be overstated… 

RP: What it does is help us to overcome the memory of those things that have happened to our people, because of the renewal of life that represents our families that are there that once we bring our families back to help create that renewal on the land by helping letting them help us plant the plants, but also helping the community to come and help plant those plants so that we'll be able to revegetate that area, we also cause a healing with other people. Because once you work the land, all the things that you hold within you that you think are hard to overcome, you bring that and you share that and talk with people out there of things that happen in your life. But while you're planning that plant, you're giving hope that that plant will grow in the same way that you are telling people that I hope that I forgive these things that happened to my life. And in both ways you are trying to overcome something and become better and become things that other people will come and want to take part in. But also see the growth of those things. And then from the growth of those things, what it does is it brings joy to people that come in, but also it brings a solitude to those that come into that land because of how the water will flow, you'll flow naturally the plants will grow and blossom, and the animals will come in, and you'll see the migration of different birds coming through, migration of animals going through the land. We'll be able to bring back freshwater fish in that area, and you'll be able to see young fishlings in the springtime coming through. So everything will be renewed. And it's a place of renewing old memories and starting new memories in that place. So it's more of a restoration of the land and the water, but also it gives us new water life to the waterways that flow back into the lake, so that the area along the lake will have the plants growing in and that helps the lake by filtering out some of the things going through to the lake. And it also may give just a few more droplets in the lake.    

OJ: A few millions of droplets! The tribe estimates their restoration work will return 13,000 acre feet of water to the Great Salt Lake annually. Overall, Mr. Pacheco reminds us to respect the water, the land, and one another if we are to truly repair our relationships and restore Great Salt Lake.     

RP: A lot of it comes down to being able to respect not just the land, but also respect the water. Respect how you're using the water each day, but also what you're putting into the water.

Respect the plants that we watch over, and not using so much of the pesticides, but taking the time to grow them and taking the time to make sure that the nutrients are going back naturally.

But also that we show respect to one another because when we show that respect, we have an understanding that we have a difficult journey ahead of us to take care of an important landmark in the state here of the lake and also an important way that we communicate with Mother Nature. 


OJ: In March we also spoke with Forrest S Cuch, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe with many titles of distinction and author of the book, “A History Of Utah's American Indians”. 

Forrest Cuch: My name is Forrest S Cuch, I was named after the reservation agent. His name was Forrest Stone. And my mother worked for him and was fond of him so she named me Forrest S Cuch. She always told me, “Don't forget the S,” which I often do forget. But my correct name is Forrest S Cuch. And I've held many titles, which I'm very grateful for. I've been an education director, a planner, tribal executive director. I've been a teacher, high school teacher, as well as college courses for Utah State University. I've also been a state division director, and a tribal enterprise CEO. And now I'm a rancher, a retired person who happens to be a horse rancher, conservationist and a healer. I believe in helping people anyway I can, also give lots of lectures on Ute history and culture, mainly history. Oh, and I live about nine and a half miles outside or northeast of Roosevelt, Utah in northeastern Utah.

OJ: What is your personal relationship with Great Salt Lake, and what does Great Salt Lake mean to you?

FC: The homelands of the Ute Indian people, primarily Utah Valley and not so much Salt Lake Valley, which was more of a buffer zone between the Utes to the south and the Northwest Band Shoshone to the north. A lot of our people talk about camping up city Creek Canyon, a beautiful area up there and so they visited those areas in the summers as well as Midway in the Heber area, Park City to some extent. Those were summer locations. And so um lots of tales of people being born up City Creek Canyon. And so it was in the vicinity of the lake and the lake was always a traditional landmark for our people. We acquired lots of waterfowl from the lake as well as traded salt to various tribes. We even used it as a leveraging tribute for folks to pass through. And so it's a very complex relationship from one of sacredness to one of commerce to one of disconnect to one of reconnect to the sacredness of the lake. And the importance of it as a landmark. And so, as a landmark, our people would say, you know, so many moons, south or so many moons east or west from the lake. So it's used like a medicine wheel for location. So that's how important of a landmark it was. 

OJ: Can you talk more about that tribute point and trade between the tribes?

FC: There was a leader named Waka. Settlers called him Wakara. And he was very enterprising. And so he would sometimes charge people to pass through, some tribes would come into the area to gather salt. I was told by a colleague, Greg Thompson, recently that he learned that some of the Pueblo tribes, Zia Pueblo, would come this far to gather salt. And the Navajo, of course from the south, New Mexico, Arizona areas would come in. And although the tribes would fight over territory, they were still to an extent, the existence of trade. Our people valued their weaving, rugs and blankets. And of course, they valued our salt, and the Utes were known for their fine buckskin tanned hides. They refined the tanning so well, they were very soft and white, and texture. And so we were known for that, as well as the fur trade. And we're one of the central tribes of the rendezvous era and trading with the trappers, fur trappers, acquired a lot of technology from them. You know that besides knives and guns or weapons, the women folk, highly priced commodity, were cooking pots and pans, very important to the livelihood of tribes.

The horse made the big difference. Tribes that acquired horses became powerful. They were able to raid one another and take from one another. Sometimes they respected boundaries, sometimes they didn't. Some people have a romantic notion of the tribes and it's inaccurate where we were people just like everyone else we were we would feud over land and territory. And we would have family intermarriage squabbles, things like that. And so sometimes someone would just be in a bad mood, and it would create tensions. Other times there was great relationships, tribes would visit and trade.

OJ: As Mr. Cuch mentioned earlier, what we now call Utah Valley was one of the primary homelands for the Ute people. Utah Lake is a headwaters of the Jordan River, which is one of Great Salt Lake’s major tributaries. 

FC: Utah Lake was actually the most important waterway. And of course, the Provo River, which had a different name at that time, and then Salt Lake had a different orientation. By the time we acquired horses, I know we used to use the Eastern bench of the Wasatch for horses for ponies to graze the pasture. And then of course, the hot springs on Beck Street, North Salt Lake, was a healing center. And then our people would come into city creek for the summers as they did in the Wasatch in the winter mountains, Park City and Midway area. So that was the orientation is first Utah Lake. This is our home. Our lives revolve around this, which was really quite a place to live. Freshwater fish in abundance. You had deer, elk, bison, mountain bison at the time, you had mountain sheep, had wild vegetables, pine nuts, wild fruit. So the Ute people before settlers arrived were quite healthy people. And the sad thing is history books portray them as in a state of depravity. And that didn't happen until they were displaced. And the evidence according to my friend and my colleague, Kevin Jones, he said a lot of the skeletons of the early people, they still had their teeth, which was a sign of health. When they found them they still had a large amount of their teeth, so that they had a healthy diet, healthy people. When the settlers pushed them out, then that's when they experienced horrible, horrible depravity. And that's why Ute people continue to suffer the trauma today where we're not eating healthy foods like we should, because we've lost that connection with healthy life and vitality. And we’re still suffering, the trauma. And so we haven't really learned to adjust yet. We're still in the adjustment stages.   

By the time the settlers started to arrive, the population was, no one really knows, but some people say in this area alone, there were probably 30,000 Indians at one point. But when settlers started coming, and even before the Mormon settlers, the disease's were being spread by the overland stage wagon trains, people coming in the area, the disease pretty much killed off. A with most tribes throughout the Western Hemisphere, anywhere from 80 to 90% of the people died off from diseases.

OJ: In this region shaped by the Great Salt Lake, there have been different waves of outsiders, other people that have come including the Dominguez Escalante party then the Donner Reed party, and then the Mormon settlers. And I'd like to ask, what were the interactions like for the Ute people?

FC: I don't know much about the interactions with the groups that were passing through. I think the ones that were passing through were probably distant and just allowing the groups to pass through. Whereas with the Mormon settlers, it was a different ballgame. There's different versions of how that happened. The version that Waka came to visit Brigham Young and his folks. He welcomed them, because my understanding is that the settlers would come through and camp and then move on. So we don't know if he was welcoming them to stay a few days a week or a month, and then move on. Or if he realized that they were here to stay? We don't know. My guess is that he did not know. Because most of the settlers would come and camp and move on. The reason is because I don't think they would want folks to take over their homelands. If he invited the settlers here it was, yeah, you're welcome to stay here in the Salt Lake Valley. But don't come further south. That's our homelands. So you see what I'm saying? The welcome needs to be discussed more thoroughly, because the initial welcome was interpreted to mean, Oh, you're welcome to come and take our lands essentially, and what person would want that? So I don't think that was accurate.

Utah Valley, in particular, was a very prized place to live. The food sources were quite plentiful in that area. And so yes, they had to be very protective of their homeland. And so they, whoever they came in contact with, they had to be very, they had to make a quick decision to discern, Well, should I open, be friendly to these folks? Or should I run them off? Should we fear them? Or should we befriend them? Almost every meeting was a complex situation. All of these things had to be considered, you see what I'm saying? Are they friend or foe? Can I benefit from them? Or should I hide from them? What should I do with these folks, you see what I'm saying. And so the fact that Utes were able to defend these areas is a tribute to their abilities to quickly discern friend or foe, and to be able to defend themselves, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

It was always a matter of survival, Protect your homelands. Evaluate people coming through, can you benefit from them or not? It's like, I don't know that. I've thought about this many times. When the Mormon settlers entered the area, they knew. I mean, the Shoshone to the north, our people to the south, knew they were coming through. But my understanding is the perception was oh, they're just going to pass through like all the others, leave them alone. I'm not so sure they wouldn't have attacked them and killed them off initially if they would have known they were going to come and invade their territories. At least I would have if I was a leader who needed to protect his homelands, and he saw an invader coming in and he could read into the future that they were going to take and and basically wipe out the culture, and basically erase the culture. And that's what's happened in Utah Valley. And that's why we fought so hard to protect the Ute name, affiliation with the University of Utah. Because once we lose that name, we become invisible to our homelands, Salt Lake and Utah Valley. You see what I'm saying? It goes deep. Salt Lake City, Utah, runs deep with the Ute Indian people. Salt and water are sacred. This is our homelands and the state is named after our people. See what I'm saying there, that runs deep with our people. And so when it comes to these natural resources, it’s who we are.

OJ: Can you talk more about the sacredness of the lake of salt and water?

FC: I've learned from my good friend Gavin Noyes, who is a student of Japanese culture, and the Japanese consider salt sacred. So he was telling me about that. And I said that's interesting. It's interesting, because our people consider water sacred. In fact, we have ceremonies that revolve around water, not so much salt, but the ceremony of water. We have a sweat lodge ceremony where we heat up preferably lava rock red hot, we build a structure and we put them in the middle and we pour water, we sing and pray. We connect with the elements. You know, the land, the air, the water, the fire, and the land. All four elements. And it's a holistic ceremony, serves the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional parts of human beings. That's why it's a powerful ceremony. But water combined with fire generates a healing cleansing process. Our other most sacred ceremony is the Sundance in which we fast three or four days from water and food. And we dance in the hot sun in a corral like structure. And it's brutal, it pushes you to the end. And it teaches you the true value of water. I'm telling you I've danced 10 times and I will tell you, you realize the importance of water if you go through that dance. So our ceremonies, some of our most sacred, revolve around water and then you combine it with the salt, which by the way makes up our bodies, right? It's proportional, water and salt in our bodies is quite similar to the  ocean. And just a little bit different with the Salt Lake, I think a little more salt, Great Salt Lake

OJ: Can you share any personal memories or experiences that you have at Great Salt Lake that are important to you or that have shaped your own understanding of the region?

FC: My relationship with the Great Salt Lake has become more prominent in my latter years as a result of landmark identification and also the association with the hot springs. I'm a member of the Wasatch Hot Springs Alliance and we're trying to restore the hot springs, they're on Beck Street, North Salt Lake.

We want to create an educational cultural center where people can be educated, first and foremost about the Indigenous people in this area. And then extend that to other other Indigenous people, and then eventually all people in this area to appreciate one another, our cultures, and to begin a healing process. The hot springs will be the source of healing for all of us. 

OJ: What does the connection between the Ute tribe and the Great Salt Lake look like today?

FC: There's been a significant degree of disconnect. And it's the result of the removal of our people from Utah Valley, central Utah, and parts thereof. In 1860, at the request of Brigham Young to remove the Utes, President Abraham Lincoln created the Uintah reservation in northeastern Utah, in an area called the Uintah basin. And then, in 1860, the Uncompahgre reservation was created, which connected with the Uinta reservation, it was created for the White River and Uncompahgre Utes from Colorado. And they were removed from western Colorado and placed on Ouray reservation. And then the Uintah were already there. And which created the combined Uintah and Ouray reservation. So two bands from Colorado were placed there, and all the remaining bands of the Ute were placed on the Uintah reservation. And so at one time, both reservations comprised over 4 million acres. I've seen two different figures for the Uintah reservation: 2.2 million acres, and then one said, no, it was closer to 2.8. So either way, it was close to 5 million acres. And now through various processes. The reservation was opened up to homesteaders in 1905. And 80% of the reservation was lost. We only had a half a million acres by the time that was over with. And they also created some national forests out of that land. And then in 1948, they restored half a million acres which brought it up to 1.3 million acres which we have today. But in the middle part of the reservation is checkerboard area. So what I'm saying is that our people were removed from this area. And so we've been away from the area for 150-60 years now, that's a long time to be. So we've kind of lost some of our affiliation with this area, to a significant degree, not some, significant degree. And so it's only through learning and restoring our history that we're coming to reconnect with our homelands.

It's a very complicated issue, because if you look at the early Mormon settlers' theology, they wanted to think that this was a virgin land that was not occupied by any people so that they could basically claim it as their promised land. And the presence of the Utes, Shoshones, and Goshutes kind of interrupted that narrative. And it's been, I think, avoided. The dominant culture kind of doesn't like to deal with that. They would rather sweep that under the rug. And I think that's a mistake. You only heal if you address the truth. You have to face the truth in order to begin to build a true relationship. Otherwise, it's a superficial relationship. And it's based on pretense. You know, let's pretend we all get along well, now, we don't get along until we’re healed, and we can only heal when we face the truth. Admitting that the Indian people were here first is not going to destroy your faith and your theology. You know, you might have to modify the narrative a little bit. But our intent is not to destroy their theology. Our intent is, let's establish the truth so that we can someday become friends. Because if we operate on myth, that we're a cursed people, that's going to divide us. That's not going to bring us together. But if you look at us as true brothers and sisters equal in value, then we can come together, then your theology can be accomplished. But you can't build that on faulty foundations. And our people, we're about the truth in nature. 

Now, this is our homeland. That's all there is to it. You can't erase us.  


OJ: In the next episode of Stay Salty, we turn to another dimension of our interrogation on who gets to stay (or leave) in the face of Great Salt Lake’s collapse. Meisei talks with an employee and a person incarcerated at the Utah State Correctional Facility, which is located on Great Salt Lake wetlands, to learn about the experience of people who have to stay on the frontlines of the receding shoreline. 


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