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Mesa Verde and the Utes: Boundary Issues of a World Heritage Site

  • Paul Friesema
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    Mesa Verde National Park, in Southwestern Colorado, preserves and interprets an archaeological region of much importance and beauty. Its famous cliff dwellings are ancestral homes to many contemporary Pueblo Indians, and the park is a significant positive factor for many contemporary American Indian people. The natural area within the park is increasingly valued, as the pinon-juniper ecosystem is diminishing elsewhere. The National Park Service (NPS) manages a major part of the Mesa Verde area. The other part, which includes major ruins and natural features, is on the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation. The tribe has created a Ute Mountain Tribal Park, which they sometimes refer to as the second Mesa Verde. Despite compatible goals of the NPS and the tribe, and obvious benefits from cooperative management, the Park-Reservation Boundary has been such a source of tension and problems that cooperative activities have been extremely difficult. An incident from the mid-1980s, the Soda Point dispute, led to a prolonged period of study and negotiation, but little positive has resulted. A lack of historical perspective about the boundary has limited the NPS in understanding the Ute interests and goals. National Park Service staff, as well-traveled professionals, have cosmopolitan perspectives, but are short on local knowledge. Their tribal counterparts may not be professional, but have an intimate knowledge of local history. The earliest patterns of NPS managementÑincluding interpretation, concession management, hiring, etc., created by park superintendents who were hostile to the Utes (and vice versa) have been institutionalized in the park, to the point where these patterns seem to limit the NPS from undertaking actions with the Utes which would be of great benefit to the NPS, the tribe, and the Mesa Verde World Heritage Site.

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    Paper provided by Institute for Policy Resarch at Northwestern University in its series IPR working papers with number 96-33.

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    Handle: RePEc:wop:nwuipr:96-33
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