Land is central in the construction of identity for many communities. For Ute Native Americans the meaning of a twelve million acre homeland in...

Land is central in the construction of identity for many communities. For Ute Native Americans the meaning of a twelve million acre homeland in western Colorado is intricately linked to the various ways they understand their heritage and future. Brandi Denison, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at University of North Florida, narrates the history of this community’s removal, remembrance, and return to this land in Ute Land Religion in the American West, 1879-2009 (University of Nebraska Press, 2017). She argues that discourses about religion were essential to settler colonialism in the American West. These took shape through justifications for the displacement of Utes, in civilizing missionary projects, imagined nostalgia about pre-contact Colorado, and as a means for Ute to warrant inclusion and return. The category of religion was deployed in a variety of ways by natives and white settlers in order to establish, deny, exclude, and restore communities within the region. In our conversation we discuss the shift from notions of dirt to land, Ute engagement with the term religion, land and religious identity, Nathan Meeker and the 1879 conflict in the White River valley, Ute removal, sexual purity, morality and rape, Ute Land Religion in fiction and anthropology, the Meeker Massacre Pageant, the Smoking River Powwow, and attempts at reconciliation.


Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. He is the author of Interpreting Islam in China: Pilgrimage, Scripture, and Language in the Han Kitab (Oxford University Press, 2017). He is currently working on a monograph entitled The Cinematic Lives of Muslims, and is the editor of the forthcoming volumes Muslims in the Movies: A Global Anthology (ILEX Foundation) and New Approaches to Islam in Film (Routledge). You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at [email protected].

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