Fire on the Plateau: Conflict And Endurance In The American Southwest

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"This book recounts my journey through the Colorado Plateau, a journey through place and time and self.... During my explorations of more than three decades, I found a land that sears into my heart and soul, a place that has taught me and changed me. I also discovered a land of conflict and endurance, a land that has given birth to one of the great chapters in American history." --from the Introduction The Colorado Plateau, stretching across four states and covering nearly 80 million acres, is one of the most unique and spectacular landscapes in the world. Remote, rugged, and dry -- at once forlorn and glorious -- it is a separate place, a place with its own distinctive landscape, history, and future.In Fire on the Plateau, legal scholar and writer Charles Wilkinson relates the powerful story of how, over the past thirty years, he has been drawn ever more deeply into the redrock country and Indian societies of the Colorado Plateau. His work in the early 1970s as staff attorney for the newly formed Native American Rights Fund brought him into close contact with Navajo and Hopi people. His growing friendships with American Indians and increasing understanding of their cultures, along with his longstanding scholarship and experiences on federal public lands, led him to delve into the complicated history of the region.Wilkinson examines that history -- the sometimes violent conflicts between indigenous populations and more recent settlers, the political machinations by industry and the legal establishment, the contentious disputes over resources and land use -- and provides a compelling look at the epic events that have shaped the region. From centuries of habitation by native peoples to Mormon settlement, from the "Big Build-Up" of the post-World War II era to the increased environmental awareness of recent years, he explores the conquests of tribes and lands that have taken place, and the ways in which both have endured.Throughout, Wilkinson uses his own personal experiences as a lawyer working with Indian people and his heartfelt insights about a land that he grew to love to tie together the threads of the story. Fire on the Plateau is a vital and dynamic work that is sure to strike a chord with anyone interested in the past or future of the American Southwest.

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Review:

The Colorado Plateau of southern Utah, southwestern Colorado, and northern Arizona and New Mexico is the site of some of America's most prized national parks, among them Zion and Grand Canyon. It is also the center of ongoing conflict about the best use of natural resources, as the federal government, Indian nations, and ever-growing municipalities struggle to obtain control of water, minerals, and rangeland. As a former natural-resources attorney and now professor of law at the University of Colorado, Charles Wilkinson knows that struggle well, and his new book provides an on-the-ground overview of some of the most pressing conflicts. Some of his fieldnotes will come as no surprise to Westerners and students of the environment; others come as eye-opening news, whether the fact that Navajo Indian children are regularly bused to schools far away from home, traveling as much as 150 miles a day, or that radioactive waste and fallout from cold-war mining and testing remains a critical danger to public health across the plateau. Wilkinson's findings are often depressing; as he writes, "Thirty-five years ago I saw the West as clean and fresh, open and uncluttered. I no longer see it that way. I love it still, with all my heart, but I fear for it. For it is aging rapidly." Even so, he offers a few success stories to temper the bad news, notably the hard-won designation of large sections of the plateau as protected wilderness, with the promise of more extensive protection to come. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Charles Wilkinson is Moses Lasky Professor of Law at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado. Among his books are Crossing the Next Meridian (Island Press, 1992) and The Eagle Bird (Pantheon, 1992).

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