Cultural Resources Director for the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians
A note from Sarah Bauman, our Executive Director
It pains me to write these words because in writing them there is a sense of finality that I have been struggling to accept: a loss that still feels like too much to bear. And I know I am not alone. There are so many people, organizations, and communities grappling with the recent death of Charley Bulletts, who served as the Kaibab Paiute Tribe’s Cultural Resources Director. Charley was truly an incredible, insightful, and compassionate person who worked to advance cultural awareness, understanding, and appreciation with an open heart and lots of humor. He was also a personal friend who helped me pay attention and become aware of my surroundings in a way that infused life with a new kind of meaning. Through his counsel, I developed a deeper understanding of his Tribe’s connection to the Grand Staircase region and, in the process, my world view was cracked open to let in new perceptions and beliefs. Charley taught me about the importance of “storied rock” as a record of family history and how his Tribe’s story has been altered through white perspectives and educational systems, with so many truths being lost along the way. He cautioned me against attributing a place to a single Tribe based solely on what might remain as visible to the human eye. For example, the Kaibab Paiute Tribe did not build their houses out of rocks, meaning there may not be physical evidence of their presence. That does not mean they were not – and are still not – deeply connected to the land. This lesson can be applied to so much in our lives. It is a valuable antidote to the habit of making assumptions based on what we think we can see using our own world view and limited perspectives to sum up (often inaccurately) places, people, and whole communities.
If there was one overwhelming thing that Charley taught me, it was humility. Humility, as a willingness to listen with an open heart and mind, and a respect for a kind of knowledge that I was never taught about growing up or in my many years of education. The rich histories and complex understandings of Indigenous knowledge are powerful for Charley’s Tribe and for all Native communities. That such knowledge has largely remained out of view for many Americans is not a mistake, but rather is one of many deleterious outcomes of a centuries-long effort to dispossess Native individuals and communities that has resulted in disproportionate inequity among Native communities. Like black people in America, Native people have suffered in ways that are undeniable when we force ourselves to face the full truth, to not look away, and to be willing to take responsibility. We cannot undo the past, but we can change our present and the future. We can listen with an open heart and an open mind. We can create a world that respects and reveres Indigenous knowledge, as we work to break down the disenfranchisement created by racism and prejudice.
I feel blessed for the person Charley was on this earth and for the gifts he shared with me and with our organization, and I hope that we can honor him through our work with GSEP. Before his passing, we were planning an outing from Escalante to Big Water, Utah. Charley was going to share some Tribal stories with us. It was going to be a small gathering, leaving before the sun came up to beat the heat and traveling over Smoky Mountain Road. Charley said many times that he felt most at home in the Grand Staircase region near Escalante. We were all so excited for the journey and for the anticipation of what we would discover together, with Charley in our company. One day soon we will make the journey in his honor. As requested, we will leave before sunrise and take along enough snacks to share. And we will listen more than we talk. We will listen for what the land has to share with us. And if we are lucky, we will learn its lessons.
With sadness and gratitude,