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To Hunt a Moon

Summertime 1898, a group of 200 Ute Native Americans traveled from their Utah reservation to their ancestral hunting grounds of the Yampa River Valley in Colorado.  An article in The Steamboat Pilot newspaper reported they journeyed there “to hunt a moon”—a month long period.  To enforce the new state’s forestry laws protecting wildlife, the US Army from Fort Duchesne was mobilized by the local game warden and the federal government.  The Ute hunting party conferred, and with the intimidating threat of US soldiers looming, the Ute acquiesced and were escorted under armed guard back to their reservation.  After almost 5,000 moons, this was probably the Ute’s last hunting party on their native lands.

To Hunt a Moon Series portrays a narrative of land ownership centered on the native peoples of the American west, the fledgling statehood of Colorado, cattle ranches, and the Apollo Moon missions. The series is composed of recent wintertime photos of the ranch lands and Rocky Mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs Colorado.  They are paired with vintage moon map engravings by Walter Goodacre published just a few years after the repelled 1898 hunting party, from NASA’s 1960’s moon cartography files, and from NASA’s Apollo astronaut photo archives from 1969-1972. Goodacre’s moon map was so accurately detailed that it was referenced by NASA fifty years later for the initial planning for the Apollo mission landing sites, and where to plant the American flag.

Summertime lasts a little longer than three moons at this high Colorado elevation. The rest of the year the lands may be seen blanketed with snow resembling a lunar landscape. From the Apollo 15 radio dialogue transcriptions, one of the astronauts ruminated while standing on the powdery lunar regolith and gazing up at the 12,000 feet of Mt. Hadley,  “…this reminds me of skiing Squaw Valley.”

The photographs of this series are arranged, grouped, and collaged together melding the form and contours of the lunar topography with the snow covered hills and cattle pastures around Steamboat Springs. Purposeful color shifts and imprints of fencing straddle and blur the line between the terrestrial and the lunar.

Barbed wire, split rail, and electric fences etch dark lines that roll for miles through the stark white snow-covered grazing lands around Steamboat Springs. They clearly define the property boundaries parsing up the landscape that demarcate land ownership—all backed by a deed on paper—a legal construct very
abstract to the native peoples of just a 120 years ago.  Why were the Ute not being allowed on the lands where they always hunted?

Most treaties with the Native Americans are broken due to pressures in exploiting land resources be it minerals, agriculture, grazing, or the expansionist doctrine of Manifest Destiny.  Today this is being tested in the heavens. Ratified by 105 nations, The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 declares governments cannot claim sovereignty over any celestial body such as a planet or the Moon.  Yet in 2015 the United States signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. It gives private companies in space the right to extract minerals for commercial purposes, yet not claim any territory.  The corporations Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are developing robotic missions to the Moon and asteroids to mine for minerals. With inevitable boundary disputes, many legal experts believe this Act will violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

2016 in Cannon Ball North Dakota, land issues reached fever pitch. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation were joined by thousands of others to protest the river crossing of the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline. Originally set to cross the Missouri River upstream of Bismarck, ND, but this was deemed too hazardous to the city’s drinking water source from the river. Instead the pipeline river crossing was deemed safer at the Reservation. Construction resumed and oil began to flow late spring 2017.

Despite protests of Native Americans and conservation groups, in the fall of 2017 the federal government took steps to shrink the size of Bear’s Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. With four other national monuments also on the list to be reduced, an area the size of Connecticut will become open to mining, logging, and other commercial enterprises.

LENSCRATCH, CENTER’s Curator’s Choice Award Second Place Winner: Jeffrey Heyne May 18, 2018 by Aline Smithson

The Mud Season Review #49  April 26, 2020

Images are archival pigment prints face mounted to matte plexiglass, mounted on Dibond panel, with silver aluminum shadow box frame 1” deep,
archival pigment prints on Hahnemühle FineArt Pearl finish paper,
285gsm paper with 3” white borders

Editions of 10 are offered with 2 artist proofs

Images from this series can be found in the collections of The Fort Wayne Museum of Art, and Bank of America

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