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Holding the World Together

The reconciliation ceremony between respresentatives of the Ute Nation and Rev. Bill Sinkford at UUA’s 2009 General Assembly was a profound event. On behalf of all Unitarian Universalists, Rev. Sinkford apologized for the participation of Unitarians in removing Ute children from their homes in the late 1800s and enrolling them in schools run by religious groups. He acknowledged the loss of culture and identity caused by these removals and offered a deep and sincere apology. While recognizing lasting injuries to their people, the Ute leaders accepted the apology with great dignity.

Holding the World Together, is fictional, but it is based on literary/historical truths that address this injury, both to the Utes and to the settlers of the West. Taking place in the early 20th Century, the book depicts the settlement of the Four Corners area, specifically, the Uintah Basin, where ranchers and Ute Indians confront each other over rights to water and land. Three main characters, two Swiss immigrants and a Ute Indian, unexpectedly meet in a remote and brutal landscape and are forced to risk their lives for their claims. Their struggle is a testament to their own inner convictions in the face of the dictates of their religion and culture.

The story is told from the alternating points of view of Jakob Muller and Anna Weiss, Swiss converts to the Mormon church, and Ben Colorow, a Ute Indian. Newly-arrived immigrants, Anna and Jakob meet one another in Salt Lake City and marry, primarily to staunch their loneliness and homesickness. The Mormon church sends them to homestead 160 acres in the Uintah Basin, but neglects to warn them of the lack of water to grow crops. As they struggle with their disappointment, Anna meets a young Ute lawyer, Ben Colorow, who is fighting for his tribe’s loss of land, water, and dignity. Against all odds, he and Anna fall in love and must face the violent reactions of both Utes and settlers.

While there have been many stories exploring the rich experience of immigrants to America, few have captured the power of the mystical homegrown religion known as Mormonism. From 1850-1900, missionaries persuaded more than 50,000 immigrants to join “the gathering” of Mormons on the western frontier. These immigrants had been promised a new life, but what they often found were conditions far less hospitable than those they left behind. Many encountered a hostile reaction from Native Americans who heroically attempted to preserve their ancestral lands. Holding the World Together shows how two people cross the divide of culture and religion to honor their love for one another.