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Colorado legislators honor Ute tribes during Denver March Powwow

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DENVER – Colorado honored the state’s oldest continuous inhabitants in a proclamation read before both houses of the legislature and at an annual meeting of Ute leaders, who pledged unity and discussed plans for the coming year.

“We endeavor to maintain strong and respectful relations between Colorado’s state and local governments and the sovereign Indian nations with whom we share the state,” read Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, a member of the Comanche Nation and a major sponsor of the Senate joint resolution.

Stained glass windows depicting the last two traditional Ute chiefs rose above the platform from which Southern Ute Chairman Matthew Box, Ignacio, Colo. opened the Tri-Ute Leaders meeting, flanked by Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Ernest House, Towaoc, Colo. and Northern Ute Chairman Curtis Cesspooch, Ft. Duchesne, Utah and members of their respective tribal councils.

The Southern Utes host their sister tribes at an annual spring meeting held in conjunction with Denver March Powwow to plan “and share with each their progress, issues and vision for the future of their peoples,” the resolution states.

A historical relationship with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of central South Dakota played a key role in the Tri-Ute meeting March 20 in Colorado’s capitol.


Photo by Carol Berry Little Miss Southern Ute, Isabella Valdez, the daughter of Martina Howe, spoke briefly to the Tri-Ute Leaders meeting in Denver, where state legislators honored the state’s original residents and pledged strong relations with the Native nations.

Cesspooch explained that some Utes had gone to Cheyenne River in the last century to try to avoid reservation status by joining forces with the Lakota. Some Utes did not come back, but last fall a 100-year anniversary celebration was held to commemorate the others’ return.

Northern Utes who recently went to South Dakota found Cheyenne River residents who knew Ute words and sang Ute Bear Dance songs, he said, and there are Ute graves on Cheyenne River Sioux lands.

Mariah Cuch, Northern Ute public information director and tribal newspaper editor, discussed recent visits between the Northern Utes and Thunder Butte community on the Cheyenne River Reservation.

The Thunder Butte community suggested an exchange of tribal flags, believing that the three Ute tribes are “part of our history and should be part of our present,” Cuch said.

“There is a need to understand how important tribal unity is.” The Ute flags would be displayed at grand entries and postings of colors.

“It is a big history that’s part of all of us,” she said, noting Denelle High Elk of Thunder Butte community said there will be a wiping of the tears ceremony in connection with other events at their powwow in South Dakota June 26.

House suggested support for a resolution with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe affirming that “We are one nation though we have different teachings.”

Manuel Heart, a Ute Mountain Ute tribal council member, said the Cheyenne River Sioux should be commended for helping to preserve the Ute way of life, and suggested inviting them for the Bear Dance. Later he proposed a retreat for the three Ute sister tribes and called for unity “as one Ute nation” as “our vow for the future of our kids.”

The Colorado legislature’s resolution asserts that, “All three Ute Tribes continue to play a vital role in the new energy economy, as energy, wildlife and conservation are essential for the creation of jobs and financial sustainability for the Ute Tribes’ communities.”

The new energy economy was stressed by House, who said Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr., on a recent visit to the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation was told the tribe is interested in renewable energy, including solar and wind power.

The day-long Tri-Ute Leaders meeting covered a number of issues, ranging from housing, health and education to perennially-underfunded law enforcement and to other areas, including tribal enrollment and severance taxes on oil and gas.

Future tribal enrollment policy is a concern for the Northern Utes, Cesspooch said. “There are a lot of kids, even if they’re all-Indian, who can’t be enrolled anyplace.”

In making changes to tribal enrollment rules, “we’ll try to do it fairly,” planning for the next seven generations, he said

Heart said an oil and gas company is paying severance tax to the state of New Mexico from production on about 120,000 acres of Ute Mountain Ute tribal land located there, but no money has gone back to the tribe for capital projects or other uses. A pending lawsuit “may set a precedent on severance tax cases” for tribes, he said.

The Ute leaders also discussed the 2009 Tri-Ute Games, tentatively scheduled for July 26 – 29 on Southern Ute lands. Sports competition categories are planned for 11 – 13, 13 – 15, and 15 to 18-year-olds so the youngest will be old enough to compete in the North American Indigenous Games in 2011.

Another proposal for tribal leaders’ consideration was to extend the tuition credit for undergraduate Native students at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. to graduate studies at the University of Colorado because, as one proponent said, an undergraduate degree is often not enough to achieve success in the job market.

Six Ute bands lived in the Colorado area for centuries, including the Capote and Mouache bands, which comprise the Southern Utes; the Weenuche (Weeminuche), comprising the Ute Mountain Utes; and the Uintah, White River, and Uncompahgre bands, comprising the Northern Utes.