Thelma Whiskers was raised by her grandparents and parents in the Ute way of life. From them, she learned two Native languages, Ute and Navajo, and the traditions of her people. Thelma knows the Ute handgame and Bear Dance, weaves baskets out of willows, makes cradleboard for her grandchildren, and uses traditional healing ways.
Thelma spends time each season gathering traditional materials for her art from the canyons, rivers, and mesas of Ute lands. Thelma’s deep grounding in her Native traditions keeps her strong and whole, gives her the energy to care for her family and grandkids, and fuels her activism to protect Ute lands from uranium poisoning.
Thelma carries on the activism of her deceased brother to fight against uranium milling in Ute homelands. With her daughter Yolanda, she cofounded White Mesa Concerned Community to educate people on the effects that the White Mesa Uranium Mill has on her small Ute community. The mill, the last of its kind in the United States, is built atop Ute, Navajo and Anasazi ceremonial and burial sites. It’s located just three miles upwind from Thelma’s home.
To do this work, Thelma has traveled across North America to give presentations, talk with regulators, and collaborate with other Native communities. “No matter what tribe we are,” Thelma has said about their collective efforts, “we are all brothers and sisters.”
She urges her community members to take action, stand up, and speak out. Thelma’s courage and determination encourages hope for a nuclear-free future. In its letter of support, Grand Canyon Trust, a partner in the fight against the White Mesa Mill, praised Thelma’s generosity, kindness and bravery.
“Thelma testified and was cross-examined in our lawsuit and spoke powerfully about the impact that the Mills operations have had on her sacred site. Much of the energy she spent came at a cost to herself. These were not easy moments; but she did it for her community.”
Thelma’s legacy is leading by example, standing proudly to educate others, so that the Ute culture and knowledge she carries stays alive and strengthens future generations.
Please join me in celebrating Legacy Leader Thelma Whiskers, a woman who speaks many languages.