Story at a glance

  • National parks and public lands in the United States were stolen by settlers from Indigenous Americans.
  • To this day, Native Americans are fighting to preserve and protect their land and their history.
  • A historic petroglyph was vandalized in a racially motivated hate crime last month.

There’s an unspoken rule among those who climb the rocks in America’s national parks: leave no trace behind. Last week, one or several visitors to Birthing Rock broke that rule, defacing Indigenous petroglyphs that date back thousands of years to the Anasazi in a shocking hate crime. 

 

“It is up to all of us to protect public lands for future generations to learn from and enjoy. The BLM encourages everyone who visits public lands to practice Leave No Trace principles and visit with respect,” said the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators. 


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"White power" and other vulgar phrases were etched over the ancient depiction of a birthing scene near Moab, Utah, on land that historically belongs to the Southern Ute tribe and is surrounded by a wooden fence intended to prevent vandalism like what was discovered in April. 

"Because they dug into the stone, it's not like it (the vandalism) was erased. It's just kind of obscured," Nicollee Gaddis-Wyatt, field manager of the BLM's Moab Field Office, told KSL.com after an initial cleanup of the site. The agency plans to contract a full cleanup to a professional conservator group. "I think once we get more of the repair done, the defacing won't be as obvious...so it's definitely going to be enjoyed."

 

This isn’t the first time outsiders have damaged native landmarks. Earlier this month, another rock climber affixed bolts over a panel over petroglyphs on the Sunshine Wall, north of Arches National Park, that were reported and removed. Richard Gilbert, a medically retired marine living in Colorado Springs, came forward, taking responsibility and apologizing online, after climbers on several popular websites called him out. 


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“He came forward and said, ‘I did this, and I’m sorry.’ He was truthful in coming out and saying this," Woody Lee, executive director of Utah Diné Bikéyah, told the Moab Sun News.

Gilbert joined a panel, “Climbing on Sacred Land: Understanding and respecting Indigenous culture," later that month with the Access Fund, a nonprofit advocating for climbing access and conservation. 

“There’s a lot of privilege and a lot of imposition from these folks who are enjoying public lands and national monuments and parks—and almost never giving a second thought to the fact that the only reason they’re public is because they were stolen,” Utah Diné Bikéyah Cultural Resources Coordinator Angelo Baca told the Moab Sun News.  

In this case, however, the racially motivated hate crime was no accident, seen by some as another attack on Indigenous Americans as the community battles an epidemic of violence against women after narrowly surviving the global coronavirus pandemic

“We see ourselves as one,” Baca told Smithsonian Magazine. “There is no separation between the Native people and their land.”  


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Published on May 04, 2021