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Land Rights Struggles in El Diario de la Gente

By Sara Cottle (Journalism), Ryan Smith (History), and Joshua Westerman (Critical Media Practices)


El Diario de la Gente’s peak years of publication were 1973 (eighteen issues) and 1974 (twelve issues). These years mark the high-water point in the battle between UMAS and the University administration. In the spring of 1974, six Chicanx student activists were killed in car bombings, which have still not been fully solved. As the students involved in those struggles moved forward in their careers, El Diaro found a last breath of life just before the 1980s. The newspaper published, on average, five issues a year between 1977-1980. Our project examines these later years in order to explore the topics that concerned Chicanx students in the late 1970s. We found that, in some years, clear themes emerged as recurrent. Farm-worker’s protests, Safeway boycotts, and an inept financial aid department dominated the talk of the early 1970s. By the late 1970s, though, a definite shift in the conversation had occurred — toward land rights and resources such as water, gas, uranium mining, and grazing rights.

While El Diario ceased publication in 1983 and laid dormant until its special issue in September 2019 commemorating the statue dedication to Los Seis de Boulder, land rights’ struggles continued to persist. The Dakota Access Pipeline (or Keystone XL) protests drew enormous numbers of concerned citizens to help protect native lands. In April 2016, several young activists from the Standing Rock tribe and surrounding Native American communities organized a social media campaign to stop the pipeline. Over that summer, in order to raise awareness for their struggle, the same youth staged a run from the Standing Rock Reservation to Washington D.C.  Similarly, Chicanx activists joined Native Americans in march across the country covered by El Diario in 1977 [1]. As the #NoDAPL hashtag started to trend on Twitter, the protest camps at Standing Rock gradually increased to thousands of people [2].

Nevertheless, on 24 January 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to advance the construction on the pipeline, expediting environmental reviews in the process. When he signed the action, he referred to the oversight as “incredibly cumbersome, long, horrible” [3]. Events have only continued to turn against the Sioux tribe since that moment. First, South Dakota criminalized the protest [4]. Then, the discovery of an immense leak in the KeystoneXL pipeline was uncovered, which continues to cause enormous environmental damage [5]. The local police have also recently discussed stopping future protests at the Standing Rock location “by any means” [6].


Methods, Process, and Tools

Thus land rights’ issues — examined mostly from the indigenous perspective — seemed like the perfect Digital Humanities project for exploring El Diario. It responds to the absence of oppressed people in the “digital cultural record” [7]. The Colorado Historical Newspaper Collection brought together a disparate and under-appreciated archive, and we hoped to highlight a section of that past where the fight continues today. In some sense, our project attempts to continue post-colonial studies, arguably started by Edward Said’s Orientalism in 1978 [8]. Although the short time of production caused this project to fall short of an effective engagement to make a better world, it has been an excellent practice attempt for our future endeavors.

We began the project by using the class-generated corpus to produce a subcorpus of land-rights’ articles — primarily reading titles after some close reading revealed the  topic of choice to Josh and Sara (Ryan, here). We then reviewed each article to eliminate any irrelevant material and more closely tune our narrative. Exploring the land rights issues meant potentially wrangling with labor, water, and mineral rights. After identifying relevant articles, the group decided that our corpus should include the following: article name, the spatial (colloquial location, as well as latitude and longitude), indigenous group (or groups affected), corporations and government bodies involved, the temporal, resources, the type of action (i.e., protest, symposium, etc.), the presence (or not) of physical violence, a summary of the event, and a link to the article in the Colorado Historic Newspaper archives. These categories were included to provide the simplest access possible to future researchers who discover or utilize our work. 

The main tool we used for our project was ArcGIS. The nationwide spatial aspect of land rights’ abuse felt like the most important to demonstrate (at least from our options). ArcGIS seemed very practical for the speed needed to accomplish our goals and includes several neat features — such as “USA Native Lands” layer, which visualizes the historical territories of indigenous people in the United States, and the “USA Crude Oil Pipelines” layer, which displays the critical (and intrusive) crude oil pipelines running through the United States [9]. Sara also included maps and layers from the BLM, specific to Colorado, that provide an excellent look at the controversy in San Luis Valley over grazing rights and water [10]. After interpreting and analyzing data from El Diario, it required close reading and use of GoogleMaps done by Ryan (still Ryan here, editing Josh) to provide estimated coordinates for featured events. Nonetheless, the precise location in the San Luis Valley hardly matters because water shortage and grazing rights have impacted the entire area — particularly the irradiation of water sources, people, and land. The coordinate system in ArcGIS necessitates a specific location to maintain clarity and legibility, but nevertheless ArcGIS served our project well, as the amount of labor required would have otherwise made our project impossible in the time available. 

The project corpus consisted of two central sources. First, the fifteen articles that were directly relevant to our map of resource struggles in El Diario between 1977 and 1981. Titles such as “Land Struggle Grows,” “Land Struggle Continues,” “Greed Still Threatens Indian Lands,” and “Broken Treaties…” made these articles quickly noticeable. The primary misstep, however, was utilizing the class corpus for the article gathering rather than reading through the “Colorado Historical Newspapers Collection . ” The second critical source for our project was the “Maps Library” at CU Boulder. The BLM Maps, which include locations for oil and gas leases, grazing allotments, and mining rights, but with limited ability to show change over time, originated there. That limited ability (to show easily show change over time), as well as the heavy focus on Colorado, found at the “Maps Library,” admittedly hindered our project to some extent.

Analysis and Conclusions

As we prepared the data, key trends emerged. While each article centered on land rights, the details often varied a great deal. After some reflection on the history and complexity of the issue, it became clear that these articles supplied context to current events. Disputes over the same problems as forty years ago still appear in newspapers today. Moreover, the articles covered specific issues as far back as 1844. Except for two of the reports, which both involved pressuring politicians in Washington D.C., all the confrontations happened in the western United States.

One story that stood out regards a man named Jack Taylor, grazing, water, lumber and settlement rights in the San Luis Valley. The narrative appears in several articles across a number of years. The first time it shows up, we get the historical context dating back to 1844. It emerges three more times, however, ending with an update on the situation in 1980. Yet the trouble persists to this day, covered by publications such as The Denver Post as recent as December 2018 [11]. Indeed, the tale of Jack Taylor remains unique to Chicanos, while the other articles from 1977-81 combine Chicano and Native American action.

The issues covered by our project are not new and will likely remain far into the future. Notably, twelve of our fifteen articles contained the mention of violence, which displays how heated the land rights struggle continues to be a reality. The types of action ranged from heated confrontations and protests, to class action lawsuits, to life sentences for deadly crimes. The articles served to educate fellow Chicanos, and they were supportive of indigenous rights. Some used call to actions, and others showed how the issues were local as well as national. Moreover, the issues in the San Luis Valley reside close to home. With seven inches of rainfall a year, on average, the headwaters of the Rio Grande River seem poised for exploitation by the wealthy at the expense of Chican@s, Hispanics, and other groups in the diverse region [12].









[7] Roopika Risam, New Digital Worlds: Postcolonial Digital Humanities in Theory, Praxis, and Pedagogy (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2019), 24.

[8] Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978).


[10]  Another problem that continues today at the same location, for example, see:

[11] /