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Four Corners news from the KSJD newsroom, updated weekday afternoons.

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  • Earlier this month, a meeting was held in White Mesa, Utah, on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation, to remember the centennial of the town of Blanding’s attacks on the tribal community. From March 22 to April 29, 1923, Mormon settlers and townspeople from Blanding began a five-week assault that included the theft of Ute lands and children, and the murder and imprisonment of many White Mesa Utes. Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk is a former Ute Mountain Ute tribal council member and the cross-cultural programs manager for Montezuma Land Conservancy. According to Lopez-Whiteskunk, the attack on White Mesa was brought on, in part, by the Homestead Act of 1862, which allowed any American to put in a claim for up to 160 free acres of federal land.
  • Environmental groups that work to protect the Black Mesa region in northeast Arizona say that Peabody Energy has not done a sufficient job of reclaiming the now-defunct Kayenta coal mine, and shouldn’t be refunded millions of dollars in bond money. Recently, the coal company Peabody Energy applied for the release of $17.3 million, part of a larger bond held by the Office of Surface Mining, or the OSM, for parts of the Kayenta Mine that have undergone some phases of reclamation. The office is under the Department of the Interior, and is tasked with ensuring coal mines adequately restore land damaged during strip mining. The bonds were posted with the OSM by Peabody to be returned only after the mine lands had been reclaimed to certain standards. In late August, the OSM held a public meeting on the bond release at the Navajo chapter house in Forest Lake where some community members also raised concerns about the long-term impact of mining on local water resources.
  • Last weekend, a community group held its second annual suicide awareness walk in downtown Cortez. The organization, RISE Southwest, was founded by Cortez residents Derek Streeter and Corin Wolf, who decided to start a suicide awareness walk in Montezuma County after the death of Streeter’s brother. According to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Montezuma County has a higher rate of suicide than the state average, with 10 suicide deaths reported in 2022. Streeter says events like the walk on Saturday – which comes during National Suicide Prevention Month – can help remind people that they’re not alone. And ahead of next week’s 2023 United Nations summit on climate solutions, youth in New Mexico will call attention to the state’s challenges related to fossil fuels.
  • The city of Cortez is participating in a grant from the U.S. EPA to identify so-called brownfield properties for potential reuse and revitalization. Brownfield sites are properties where expansion or development may be complicated by the presence of pollutants or hazardous waste. In 2022, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment awarded Cortez, Firestone, Longmont, and Lyons a collective $2 million brownfields grant to cover the costs of initial site assessments and studies. Some properties in Cortez – like KSJD’s own Sunflower Theatre – have benefited from brownfield cleanup and community revitalization in the past. And a preliminary settlement was reached late Tuesday in a lawsuit over alleged transparency violations in the Colorado State House of Representatives.
  • The creative writing department at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona, will hold a virtual writing discussion on Wednesday led by freelance journalist Cyrus Norcross. Norcross is a writer and creative writing student from the Navajo Nation whose reporting has so far focused on missing and murdered Indigenous people. At the Zoom discussion, he says he’ll read from a memoir-in-progress about his time as an activist at the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline protests. The memoir traces Norcross’s progression as a writer starting with his time at the Standing Rock protests, an experience that inspired him to pursue a career as a journalist, he says. The event will go from 5-6 p.m. on Wednesday. And Democrats in the Colorado Senate chose a new Majority Leader last week.
  • A new seed store and bakery is opening its doors in Cortez for the first time on Saturday. Pueblo Seed & Food Company sells seeds that originated in and are adapted to the desert Southwest, as well as curated seeds from different arid regions all over the world. The company’s farm is located in McElmo Canyon on land protected by a Montezuma Land Conservancy easement, and grows crops like heritage wheat, rye and barley. Nanna Meyer, a baker and co-owner of Pueblo Seed & Food Company, says that she hopes the store will help provide a return to food culture for the residents of Montezuma County after years of isolation during the pandemic. And a new Colorado gun-control law that’s on hold due to a court challenge won’t be going into effect anytime soon.
  • Kathleen Curry, a Democrat from Gunnison, announced this month she’s running for Colorado House District 58. Curry previously served three terms as a representative in the State Legislature, changing her party affiliation in 2009 from Democrat to unaffiliated. She later lost reelection. Curry told Colorado Politics that when she left the Democratic Party in 2009 she was frustrated with the party system in general. In June, Curry changed her voter registration back to Democrat and subsequently began a bid for House District 58. If elected, Curry says changing her party affiliation will help her constituents, in part because of the realities of where the legislature is at in terms of party control.
  • Montezuma Land Conservancy, or MLC, announced the conservation of two new parcels of land in Montezuma County on Monday, including one bordering Mesa Verde National Park. The other parcel is located near the Boggy Draw trail system. MLC is a nonprofit trust that works to protect land in southwest Colorado for its wildlife habitat, agricultural potential or public trails. Travis Custer, executive director of MLC, says that the addition of the conserved private land near Mesa Verde to an already existing public lands corridor in the area means more habitat protection for mule deer and certain species of birds listed on the state’s threatened and endangered list. And Colorado state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and their caucuses have more time to respond to alleged violations of open meeting laws.
  • On Thursday, a coalition of local government agencies and nonprofits is dedicating a park bench to those in the Cortez community who have died in the area while experiencing homelessness. The Montezuma County Homelessness Prevention Coalition is a collaboration between groups like The Piñon Project Family Resource Center and the city of Cortez to help unhoused residents of Montezuma County. Lucia Bueno-Valdez is the homelessness prevention coordinator for The Piñon Project and a key member of the coalition. She says one of the problems the group faces in assisting unhoused people is a lack of available data on how many have lived in Montezuma County, historically. And Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold is speaking out against a proposed merger between grocery store giants Kroger and Albertsons.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun using new cleanup technology to remove radioactive soil from areas around Cove, Arizona. Since the 1950s, uranium mining has occurred in the Lukachukai Mountains, leading to the contamination of waterways and livestock in the region. The EPA is now using soil sorting technology to remove waste rock from two areas in Cove that had previously served as transfer stations, or sites where uranium ore was piled and eventually trucked off. Krista Brown is a remedial project manager for the EPA, and says that the soil sorter has so far been successful in separating native soil from uranium waste. And Colorado’s Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board is considering capping the price of a life-saving medication for cystic fibrosis.