Mondo-Stupid Vandalism of Native American Ruins: How to Punish Students?

Fort Lewis College students made it easy to figure out who was responsible for this vandalism.
Fort Lewis College students made it easy to figure out who was responsible for this vandalism.
Photo by Wendy Gayle via the Durango Herald

Schmuck of the Week honorees need to do a little something extra to stand out from the pack.

And committing an offense in a way that lets everyone know who did it definitely qualifies.

That was the case with several students at Fort Lewis College in Durango, who not only made the moronic choice to vandalize Native American ruins in Utah, but did so by using the name of the college and the specific program with which they were involved.

This decision made it easy to figure out who was responsible even as it caused embarrassment for the institution as a whole. But FLC's approach to dealing with the students — by attempting to turn the incident into an educational experience rather than treating it as a crime — has caused a significant social-media backlash that's made the entire situation even worse.

This isn't the first time that accusations of vandalism against Fort Lewis College students have surfaced online. Back in April 2015, a post on the Mountain Project forum described an encounter with four young men who'd allegedly besmirched part of the Turtle Lake bouldering area — and a vehicle associated with one of them featured an FLC parking permit.

Here's a photo of the damage:

Mondo-Stupid Vandalism of Native American Ruins: How to Punish Students?
Facebook

As you can see, these images don't have specific identifiers that could be traced to the vandals. But the scrawl seen in the photo at the top of this post, taken in the Comb Ridge area near Bluff, Utah, clearly reads "Fort Lewis College OP 2016" — and as the Durango Herald points out, around ten members of FLC's "Outdoor Pursuits" program, plus student-leader supervisors, visited the area this past October.

Granted, the words, written in black charcoal, were in an area where plenty of people have affixed their names over the decades. But this past Monday, after the photo began circulating, the Facebook page for the Outdoor Pursuits program made it clear that supervisors didn't consider that to be an excuse. The post reads:

Outdoor Pursuits is aware of the recent incident involving vandalism at a cultural site in the Comb Ridge area and is taking the appropriate measures to investigate it. Such incidents are not tolerated on Outdoor Pursuits trips and are not a normal practice when visiting and travelling in the terrain in which the program operates. OP understands the seriousness of the vandalism and will continue to educate its participants with regards to being culturally and environmentally aware. OP has been offering high quality programming for nearly 40 years that is sensitive to all ethnicities, cultures and environments.

The Fort Lewis College anthropology department also weighed in on Facebook, writing:

We vehemently condemn these actions and any actions that result in the defacement or destruction of cultural resources. The Department of Anthropology will be doing all that we can to educate the Fort Lewis Community, including the Outdoor Pursuits Program, about the importance of these resources to Native American descendant communities and regarding their importance to the unique history of the Southwest. The Four Corners area is renowned for its many available recreational opportunities, and the Anthropology Department welcomes the chance to educate students, faculty, and community members about respectful conduct with regard to its non-renewable cultural resources.

A Fort Lewis College representative told the Herald that the students responsible have been identified and they'll likely be participating in a project that may result in the cleanup of all the graffiti in the area, located on lands that could become part of the proposed Bear Ears National Monument. But that solution hasn't satisfied everyone. Here's a sampling of comments from the Outdoor Pursuits Facebook page:

Doesn't tolerate? How about step up and take some responsibility. Expel the perpetrators, turn them in so they can pay the fines and other punishments, and see that the student leaders on the trip never lead another trip again. Too many college outing programs have such lax standards, and you all are just living up to that.

I think they should also have to do community service. For example, the Southern Ute probably could use some assistance somewhere. Our they can head down to Towaoc and do the same there and show the living population of Indigenous citizens that they are clueless about native people and their regard for sacred sites. In my opinion this is expulsion worthy if a significant reparation is not made by each perpetrator. Shameful, Intolerable, Inexcusable.

The damage that was done was irreversible. "Removed"? Not without scars left behind. I would hate to think that whoever is responsible can get a "slap on the wrist" and continue to think this type of behavior will be tolerated. Take this incident seriously!

SHAME ON YOU!!!' For allowing this to happen! Just cleaning the wall off is not punishment enough. This should be treated the same as with any other cultural resource crime, maybe a little jail time and some hefty fines. Quit babying these young adults.

A close-up of Casey Nocket caught in the act, from her now-deleted Instagram account.
A close-up of Casey Nocket caught in the act, from her now-deleted Instagram account.
File photo

These responses recall those directed at Casey Nocket, who admitted to defacing Rocky Mountain National Park and other federal property with her dubious artwork and then Instagramming the results. This past June, she was sentenced to two years of probation and 200 hours of community service.

It appears the Fort Lewis College students in question will avoid such a fate — but they won't get out of being named Schmucks of the Week.


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