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Sacred home

Dear Editor:

John Motter’s article of January 16, “A look at why Pagosa Springs was established” explains the reality of how our area was “legally” obtained from the Southern Utes.

It is a reminder that we are walking upon ground that was once the sacred home of neighbors in Ignacio.

In 1974 I moved to Pagosa and began my first teaching job here, replacing David Mitchell as teacher of 7th-grade Colorado History, when he decided to work full time with The Pagosa Springs SUN. The history book we used barely mentioned how our government obtained Ute land, and how the Natives were regarded and treated by our legal system — facts hidden from view in those days.

My interest and study of Native Americans began when I was a small child. It is rooted in my Vermillion family tree, which includes Netawatwees, a Delaware chief who worked for peace between his tribe and white settlers of the 18th century. (You can find him online.)

John Motter acknowledges how our government changes rules, laws, and treaties in order to acquire Native lands, something that occurs to this very day.

John mentions “… the goal of forcing Native Americans to assimilate within the white culture.” I have personal experience with this very thing. In 2011, I married Brad Shutler, a Native Chickasaw. His mother, orphaned at age 5 in 1927, was separated from her siblings and put into an Indian boarding school in Oklahoma. The attempt was made to “white wash” her to remove Chickasaw cultural traditions. She received training to serve as a domestic in white households. Negative results of this are now part of my life. The Native American experience is a very real part of our country and our culture. We live within minutes of the Southern Utes but we know little about their lives and what they think about those of us who live on their sacred ground.

I appreciate John’s reminder regarding the history of the land we now occupy. Recently Brad and I viewed a documentary about a couple that began to wonder what became of the original Native Americans who once lived on their property. It is called “Two Rivers.” If any readers wish to know more about what is in the minds of our Native brothers and sisters, Brad and I recommend “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” and “The Wolf At Twilight,” by Kent Nerburn. History teachers who want to teach truths about the Native American experience during the Indian removal days and why there remain chasms between them and white culture of today, should read these books. They will enlighten your understanding of history.

As my late husband Ralph Hamilton, former Pagosa Springs Junior High School teacher and counselor, said many, many times: “Healing begins with awareness and seeking the truth.” Thank you, John, for giving readers of The SUN a great example of this.

Cindy Hamilton Shutler

This story was posted on January 23, 2014.