Volume No. 16 Issue No. 10 October 2019  

  Native American group focuses on sacred trees and places

     The Association for Native American Sacred Trees and Places, or NASTaP, was founded on Dec. 27, 2017. John Anderson, author and storyteller, and Dr. James Jefferson, Ute Elder from the Southern Ute reservation, worked together to create NASTaP.
   John Anderson was hiking in Black Forest when he saw an “old, bent, pine tree.” In his video, “Native American Culturally Modified Trees,” Anderson said he had just read about Ute prayer trees and wondered if the pine tree was one. He invited friends to join him on another hike, and they ended up documenting about 24 trees they thought were culturally modified trees or CMTs.
   In the video, Anderson said he was afraid people would think the CMTs were distressed from the Black Forest fire, which started June 11, 2013. He wanted to get the word out about the sacred trees, so he wrote the book, “Ute Indian Prayer Trees, of the Pikes Peak Region.” He then decided to try to connect with someone from the Southern Ute reservation, south of Durango, for more information.
   Nathan Strong Elk, former executive director of the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum, agreed to meet with him; from there, he met Jefferson. In 2013, Anderson invited Jefferson and his peers to the Black Forest area for a barbecue to show them the trees. There were 15 Ute tribal members who joined them that year, and the next year 30 people attended the barbecue. Jefferson and Anderson have been working closely together ever since.
   “We have two missions close to our hearts,” said Heidi Wigand-Nicely, NASTaP secretary. “Awareness, education and preservation and to reconnect Native Americans, especially the youth, to their culture, the trees and to the sacred places.” Wigand-Nicely said the Utes didn’t grow up with the trees because they were moved to reservations and the elders who knew about the trees are now in their 80s. She said through grants and donations they paid for 10 Ute youth, from two different reservations, to attend the national conference in August.
   “They visited the trees with us and listened to the presentations by the Ute elders, so we were able to expose them to the parts of their culture that got lost in the process of them moving onto the reservations,” Wigand-Nicely said. Many of the elders don’t talk about the trees or their heritage.
   When they were forced onto the reservations, many were sent to boarding schools, where their names were changed; they were forbidden to talk about their culture or heritage, she said. Some of the elders still feel prohibited to talk about it because of those days, and there are a lot who aren’t aware of the trees at all, she said.
   NASTaP provides regular walking tours to the public, Wigand-Nicely said. “We would, of course, love people to join NASTaP, but the hikes are open to anyone, not just members.” Culturally modified trees are identified throughout the walk, and observers are taught how to recognize them, as opposed to trees modified by nature or humans, etc., she said.
   Currently, if people think there is a CMT on their property, they can email Wigand-Nicely, and NASTaP will send out people to make a determination. They have a standards committee seeking a grant to be able to formally document the trees, the locations and the features that verify the CMT.
   Often, property owners will join NASTaP to help the organization educate people and preserve the trees, Wigand-Nicely said. “Our mission is to get the word out to save these trees, until they die of natural causes,” she said. The UTE have been the focus of their efforts because of their presence in the area. But NASTaP is inclusive to all Native Americans and their sacred trees and places.
   In a separate interview, Anderson said, “The most important point I try to communicate is that these trees are living Native American cultural artifacts that were left behind by our indigenous people as a legacy gift. And these CMTs are worthy of our best conservation efforts so they can be researched further and enjoyed by future generations.”
   NASTaP has members throughout the United States and internationally. Anyone can become a member. For more information about NASTaP, visit https:// https://nastap.org. Wigand-Nicely said interested parties should email her for more information or for questions on hikes: heidi.wigand.nicely@gmail.com.
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