The Environmental Heritage of Día de Los Muertos

Día de Los Muertos — the Day of the Dead — offers Latinos in the United States and Latin America a few days annually to welcome back the souls of their ancestors with offerings of food, drink and celebration.

While the roots of this festivity go back some 3,000 years to the rituals of Azteca, Maya and other Nahua people honoring the dead, for GreenLatinos, this is a time when we acknowledge the care of our ancestors who collectively protected sacred lands, the air and water, alongside our heritage for future generations — including ours.

We must protect our collective heritage, that they so cherished, and pass along our history to future generations, this includes protecting our public lands and waters. Across Colorado, many lands that represent us and our communities have yet to be permanently protected and an alarming number of these sites suffer from vandalism and theft.

Here in my home state, the Colorado Wilderness Act (CWA) would permanently protect more than half a million acres of land in 36 areas across the state. This is a significant step in our efforts to conserve 30% of the Earth’s lands by 2030. It is also a key part of Representative Diana DeGette’s Protecting America’s Wilderness Act (HR 2546).

The CWA includes majestic places like Cross Canyon, right outside of Cortez, which was inhabited by the ancestral Puebloan people between 450 and 1300 AD, and whose presence in the area can still be felt.

According to the Department of the Interior, Cross Canyon has one of the densest collections of cultural artifacts anywhere in the country. Rep. DeGette visited the area just last year and saw firsthand the incredible culture and tradition there, in the forms of ruins, petroglyphs, and artifacts scattered around the landscape.  In some parts, there are over 100 cultural sites per square mile. A complete inventory of these sites, sadly, does not exist and the degradation of these critical sites increases daily.

Another area for permanent protection is Pisgah Mountain in near Carbondale in central Colorado, on the lands of the Ute Tribe. This historic area is another example of where scattered artifacts and cultural sites carry no archaeological survey to date.

That is why we must honor our lands and the history of our ancestors this Dia de Los Muertos by passing the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act once and for all. It is time for Congress to ensure that we can defend and pass on these essential areas to future generations before they disappear before our eyes.

Ean Tafoya is the Colorado Field Advocate for GreenLatinos. GreenLatinos advocates for and develops policies and programs on conservation issues that significantly affect the health and welfare of the Latino community in the United States.

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