Honoring Our Heritage: The Natural & Cultural History of the Gila
September 22 – 25, 2016
The 12th Annual Gila River Festival Honoring Our Heritage: The Natural and Cultural History of the Gila will look at the importance of preserving our region’s cultural and natural history. This year’s centennial of the National Park Service provides an opportunity to explore the philosophy behind our nation’s accomplishments in preserving our cultural and natural heritage and understand future challenges to preserving biologically important landscapes, such as the Gila River watershed, and to protecting public lands held in trust for all Americans.
Since the painter George Catlin first proposed the idea of “a nation’s park…some great protecting policy” in 1832 in response to western expansion and the loss of wild places and their indigenous peoples, the creation of the national parks evolved along with a uniquely American land ethic.
The Gila Region is a beneficiary of this preservation movement in American history. Southwest New Mexico has the nation’s first wilderness area, the Gila Wilderness, established in 1924. The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, part of the National Park Service, was created in 1907 to protect Mogollon culture cliff dwellings in the Gila National Forest.
Looking at the history of resource protection in the Gila region, we are inspired by the National Park Service’s mission “….to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
This year, the National Park Service celebrates its centennial, and some Gila River Festival events will complement this anniversary. The Gila River Festival will also collaborate with the National Park Service’s Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument to offer special events that coincide with the centennial.
Keynote speaker Audrey Peterman is the author of Legacy on the Land: A Black Couple Discovers Our National Inheritance and Tells Why Every American Should Care and Our True Nature: Finding a Zest for Life in the National Park System. She will speak about the philosophy behind and the need for preservation of public lands, the repositories of much of our cultural and natural history. Peterman will also highlight the contributions of the unsung heroes of the conservation movement: women and people of color.
Dave Foreman, a conservation icon and author of Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, will provide us with historical perspectives on Gila protection. From the opposition to the Hooker and Conner dam and current Gila River diversion to Wilderness protection, Dave has been at the forefront of these battles and will provide us with a front row seat to the successes of the past and the challenges yet to come.
Phil Connors, renowned author of Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout, will speak at the Sunday Brunch. He will survey the importance of the Gila as both symbol and tangible enactment of the conservation impulse. His talk will also scan the future for a glimpse of how the “world’s first wilderness” will continue to accrue and evolve meaning in a changing climate on a crowded planet.
Hakim Bellamy, the inaugural poet laureate of Albuquerque, will perform his spoken word piece, “Everywhere Is a Gila,” accompanied by musician Colin Hazelbaker. Last year, these two collaborated on a video of the same title, which went viral, generating thousands of views in support of Gila River protection. Local spoken word performers will join Bellamy at an outdoor film projection/spoken word event. Again this year, Western New Mexico University New Media professor, artist and filmmaker Peter Bill will project films, images, and animations on the Murray Hotel that will explore our relationship to the wild Gila that we cherish and desire to protect.
Other festival speakers to date include Jeff Haozous and Michael Darrow of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, Teresa Martinez from the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, Rita Garcia from the National Park Service, Dr. Esteban Muldavin of Natural Heritage New Mexico, The Nature Conservancy’s Martha Cooper, botanist Dr. Richard Felger, rock art expert Alex Mares, Rick Quezada of Ysleta del Sur, photographer Diana Molina, WNMU Museum’s Dr. Cynthia Bettison, and author Ron Hamm.
As in previous years, the Gila River Festival offers expert-guided field trips on birding, native plants, and other topics; a Gila River kayak trip, a family-oriented puppet parade, and many more activities.
Note: Events taking place on U.S. Forest Service land are authorized by the Gila National Forest through a special use permit.