Great Salt Lake rally brings Native and youth voices to Utah’s Capitol Hill

Nov 15, 2023, 8:00 AM

Environmental-themed art and music,  including eared grebe and brine shrimp puppets were prominent ...

Environmental-themed art and music, including eared grebe and brine shrimp puppets were prominent at the Great Salt Lake Rally. (Aimee Van Tatenhove)

(Aimee Van Tatenhove)

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake.

“We were born in water. We were delivered in water. We know what water is. Water sustained us from conception, and water sustains us as we go throughout life.” Goshute chair Virgil Johnson shared the life-giving importance of water at a rally this weekend honoring Great Salt Lake.

Despite the fall chill, the rally drew in people of all ages, some adorned with bird puppets or dressed in brine shrimp costumes, to the Utah capitol steps.

Sarah Woodbury, USU Environment and Society graduate student and an organizer for the event summed up the scene.

“We’re gathered here today for native and youth voices honoring Great Salt Lake. We have a group of speakers and performers, youth and Indigenous voices, three tribes represented here today, calling for a flourishing Great Salt Lake in the future,” Woodbury shared.

Barring another unusually wet winter, Great Salt Lake is expected to reach a new low next summer, further shrinking important wetland habitat for millions of birds and blowing toxic dust onto communities across the Wasatch Front.

Event organizer Will Munger, also a graduate student in USU’s Department of Environment and Society, remained hopeful.

“There’s been some real progress in terms of legislation, in terms of science. But there also have been some steps that we really have thought that are important…and to hear that energy from the next generation who are going to be living with the impact of the policy that is created today is really important,” Munger said. “So that’s really what kind of brought people out here today is to center those youth and Indigenous voices.”

In addition to speakers and music, event organizers asked rally participants to break into talking circles to discuss what’s been done to help the lake so far and how to move forward as Utah’s population—and thirst—grows.

Becca Black, BYU student and member of Grow the Flow, an initiative of environmental non-profit Conserve Utah Valley, appreciated the chance to discuss the threats Great Salt Lake faces.

“I love the opportunities here to sit in circles and discuss real issues that are going on and how we can be part of those solutions,” Black said.

Native and marginalized voices have been largely left out of talks about Great Salt Lake’s future. A common discussion point across the talking circles was how to elevate voices of local tribes, youth, and communities west of I-15, who are already seeing impacts from development and blowing lake dust.

“As young people who live and depend on this watershed, we all have such a responsibility to use our voices to get water and get love directed towards the lake,” Black emphasized.

The organizers hope to use the takeaways from discussions at the rally to elevate marginalized voices, engage with stakeholders and pursue new legislation and conservation initiatives to get water back to Great Salt Lake.

Related: A pouring out of love: Utahns gather for Great Salt Lake blessing ceremony

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Great Salt Lake rally brings Native and youth voices to Utah’s Capitol Hill