Letter to the Editor: Welcome to Utah, Secretary Haaland

In this file photo, then-congressional candidate Deb Haaland greets people during a campaign stop in November 2018 | Associated Press photo by Juan Labreche, St. George News

LETTER TO THE EDITOR — We’re writing to welcome Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to Utah — on her upcoming, historic visit to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. We also want to tell people about our own unique project, Pika’aya Tooveep.

Bethany Jake encounters her first threatened Mojave desert tortoise in Pika’aya Tooveep, Southern Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Sarah Thomas, St. George News

In our corner of the state, on the ancestral homelands of the Southern Paiute, the Secretary’s visit coincides with scarlet globemallow blooming, desert tortoises emerging from their burrows and the start of our project, Pika’aya Tooveep, which means “tortoise country.” We’d like to tell you about this project on the Shivwits Reservation that takes a holistic approach to conservation.

“My name is Bethany Jake, and I am a member of the Shivwits Band that is part of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah. I am currently getting my Master’s in Behavior Analysis. The Shivwits Band is placed in the middle of a desert that is fruitful with nature, animals, and land that is preserved. The Shivwits Band is a strong entity that has been running on its own for many years. Through Pika’aya Tooveep, we are working to help outsiders understand our culture and the importance of the land.

“The Pika’aya Tooveep Project is about protecting the land that is around us. There are vulnerable populations here that need protection, such as the desert tortoise. They are a valued part of the Shivwits peoples’ culture in the form of being seen as a warrior. My goal for this project is not only to bring awareness and knowledge of the desert tortoise, but to also immortalize my Elders’ stories and their voices. That way future generations will have access to their history, and families will have strong ties to their ancestors.”

“My name is Sarah Thomas, and I work for Conserve Southwest Utah, a non-profit dedicated to protecting public lands, air and water for future generations. I am collaborating with the Shivwits Band, a small Southern Paiute band working to secure economic independence and a bright future for their youth.

Sarah Thomas is careful where she places her feet in Pika’aya Tooveep; tiny, hatchling tortoises could be resting in shady spots under rocks, Southern Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Sarah Thomas, St. George News

“Together with state and county wildlife managers and local universities, we are partners in this project that takes both a scientific and cultural view of the threatened Mojave desert tortoise and its habitat. Indigenous perspectives and traditional knowledge, together with biology and conservation science, are blending to protect our environment and create opportunities for youth.

“We’ve established internships for indigenous college students, such as Bethany and others, to gain new skills in conservation and community building. They are joining wildlife biologists in a tortoise survey on sovereign lands and interviewing their elders about wildlife, land, and healing. We are learning that the desert tortoise symbolizes strength and survival and, like the Shivwits Band, is enduring. We couldn’t ask for better partners as we forge this stronger understanding of conservation.”

Secretary Haaland, we thank you for your work to protect our natural resources and elevate tribal voices. You are a strong figure who will inspire Native American youth everywhere. The next time you’re in Utah, we invite you to visit Pika’aya Tooveep and see our project in “tortoise country” first-hand.

Submitted by Pika’aya Tooveep intern BETHANY JAKE and Conserve Southwest Utah Public Lands Program Director SARAH THOMAS.

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.

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