Director’s Letter August 2022

Salamander Crew RMBL

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Walk beside me that we may be as one.” ~Ute Indian Proverb

Maintaining and sharing knowledge is nestled in the core of being alive, and human.

There are many ways of knowing. DNA molecules sit in our nuclei, bits of information transmitted across generations reflecting an accumulated wisdom that if we are lucky, allows us to survive and reproduce.

How we share knowledge today is intertwined with the emergence of western science. What historians describe as the age of discovery is perhaps better described as the age of recorded discovery. With the Ottoman capture of Constantinople in 1453 and the associated European desire to establish maritime trade routes to India and Asia, exploration exploded. But humans have always been intrepid explorers; Polynesians managed sea voyages that made the European excursions of the 1500’s look like a walk in the park.

The focus on European discovery can be attributed in part to a change in how we transmitted information. The emergence of moveable type printing around 1440 made it possible to broadly share information. Alexander von Humboldt produced popular books in the 1800’s documenting his explorations and ideas. Where would science be without journals and peer-reviewed publications?

The transition to written knowledge can be seen in RMBL’s landscape. Many local place names derive from attempts to capture Ute language in English. “Saguache” can be interpreted as the blue-green place, “Cochetopa” as bison pass, and “Poncha” as footpath. Three Ute tribes remain active today including the Uintah and Ouray reservation in northeastern Utah and the Southern Ute reservation in Ignacio, Colorado. The Utah Mountain Utes, whose primary homeland is now southwestern Colorado (and adjoining New Mexico and Utah), ranch in Gunnison County.

Gothic, RMBL’s home, was part of the Ute middle earth, the mountain valleys and parks in which the Nuchu, as they referred to themselves, seasonally hunted, fished, and gathered plants, and from which they were forcibly removed.  The 1868 Ute Treaty put their eastern border on the 107th Meridian, which crosses Snodgrass Mountain and passes just west of Gothic. The Meeker Incident, an armed conflict, was used to justify additional forcible removal of Utes from their lands. That Gothic was founded as a mining town on the edge of Ute territory just months before the Meeker Incident makes it clear that the US land grab was about mineral development.

Understanding the natural world in the Gunnison Basin did not start with RMBL’s founding. This summer, RMBL’s Visitor Center is hosting a display (see adjoining article) developed by History Colorado in collaboration with the Ute Tribes, on Ute use of science, math, and technology.

While RMBL is part of the western tradition of knowing, with information shared in peer-reviewed publications and in data archives, we offer more than a pathway to publication. Students and scientists have opportunities to learn through shared experiences, oral tradition, and observation. Robin Wall Kimmerer, an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and an ecologist, wrote in Braiding Sweetgrass, “Science can be a way of forming intimacy and respect with other species that is rivaled only by the observations of traditional knowledge holders. It can be a path to kinship”. The understanding that leads to empathy, action, and changed lives is a fundamental way by which we share knowledge.

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL