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Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs Fills Key Native Position

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A former head of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA) has been restored to that position, replacing Carol Harvey, Dine’/Hispanic, who left the position in mid-November after members of Colorado’s two Ute tribal nations asked for a CCIA executive secretary who more nearly fit their expectations.

Ernest House Jr., Ute Mountain Ute, served in the position for five years and resigned last January to become director of governmental affairs for the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, citing job challenges and additional family responsibilities as reasons for the change.

He is the great-grandson of Chief Jack House, the traditional chief of the tribe, and son of the late Ernest House Sr., a long-time tribal leader, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in September.

Colorado Lt. Gov. Joseph Garcia, CCIA chairman, will recommend that the CCIA ratify House Jr.’s selection at its quarterly meeting January 9, 2012. The CCIA hiring committee, in consultation with the (two Ute) tribes, unanimously advised House Jr.’s appointment, said a spokesperson for Garcia’s office.

The CCIA coordinates intergovernmental matters between the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Tribal governments and the state, and also assesses the needs for services to all Indians in the state.

Garcia, after the former CCIA executive secretary’s termination, said the CCIA’s role was to act as a conduit to the tribes and to maintain an open line to address tribal needs and priorities, and he felt it was time to “improve the overall level of service” and communication with them.

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When House Jr. was former CCIA executive secretary, he said he felt the Commission had “changed the stereotypical perception and outlook of the American Indian citizen, community, and culture.” He also played a key role with the Colorado Historical Society (now History Colorado) in developing a national model for implementing the Native American Graves Repatriation and Protection Act (NAGPRA) on state and private lands.

The process for tribal consultation, transfer and reburial of culturally unidentifiable Native American human remains after their inadvertent discovery was significant because NAGPRA regulations had not been developed for repatriating remains that could not be affiliated with a particular tribe.

He headed up consultation on the process with about 50 tribes that called and may continue to call Colorado home, noting the tribes’ preference for non-disturbance, including that which could occur in the testing of remains, and for reburial as soon as possible near the discovery site.

Garcia, who is also head of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, said the CCIA will continue the emphasis on educational equity for Native students that was a priority of Harvey’s when she was in that position. For that reason and others, she had received support from Denver’s urban community.

In a prepared statement issued after Harvey’s ouster, Garcia said, “We believe that a strong and effective leader in the role of executive secretary (of CCIA) can help to provide a stronger voice for our tribes and for all indigenous people in Colorado.”

By voice vote, each CCIA member was in favor of Garcia’s replacement proposal, which he said would include input from heads of the two Ute tribes in the selection process.

House Jr., who was not immediately available for comment, has said he hopes at some point in the future to return to the Ute Mountain Ute reservation in southwest Colorado to work with his tribe. He studied political science at Metropolitan State College in Denver.