PastForward Preview: Terry Tempest Williams, Author and Conservationist

By Forum Online posted 09-25-2018 17:18


Terry Tempest Williams is a conservationist, free speech and ethics advocate, and author. She has been called “a citizen writer” and has consistently shown us that environmental issues are social justice issues. Tempest Williams received the 2017 Audubon New York Award for Environmental Writing. In 2014, on the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, she received the Sierra Club’s John Muir Award, which honors a distinguished record of leadership in American conservation. In 2009 Tempest Williams was featured in Ken Burns’ PBS series, “The National Park: America’s Best Idea.” Follow her on Twitter @TempestWilliams.

Tempest Williams responded to some questions in preparation for her upcoming TrustLive: Culture-Nature at PastForward 2018. Register for the conference today!


Your writing makes it clear that you’re advocating for our parks and landscapes not only for their recreational value but also for their cultural aspects. Why is it important, especially now, to make the culture-nature connection by telling the full stories of natural landscapes and protecting associated cultural resources? Can you provide an example of advocating for both natural landscapes and cultural resources?

A perfect example of a landscape that harbors rich cultural histories and artifacts is Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. These fragile desert lands are sacred ground to the Navajo (Diné), Hopi, Zuni, Ute, and Mountain Ute nations. In 2016 President Barack Obama heard their voices asking for these lands to be protected. The Bears Ears National Monument was established making it the first national park unit that would be a cooperative management model between the tribes and the United States government. It was a handshake across history, a renewal of trust between Native people and a long, complicated history of betrayals.

In 2017 President Donald Trump gutted the Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent, sacrificing 100,000 archaeological sites in favor of oil and gas developing and hard rock mining claims and negating the trust of the Native people. This dispute is now before the courts.

Your work not only highlights the relationships between people and natural landscapes but also connects people to place through storytelling. What power do you think storytelling has in preservation work?

Storytelling bypasses rhetoric and pierces the heart. We not only hear the story being told but we also feel it. Too often, we negate the power of the emotional register and privilege facts only. We need both. Story is the umbilical cord between the past, present, and future. It keeps things known. Historic and cultural preservation is all about stories. Stories belong to community. They keep things known. When we are told a story about a people, an object, a place, we become accountable for that knowledge shared. A relationship is forged. We care. We become responsible for something beyond ourselves.

What should PastForward attendees consider prior to hearing your TrustLive presentation?

That we are all storytellers.

If you are participating in the PastForward Challenge (Gamification) for points and prizes, please enter the following passcode for the "Blog: Q/A with Terry Tempest Williams" challenge: QATTW.


Get Connected

Discuss this blog post and more on Forum’s new online community. Sign up now.