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Future Resources Are Key to Planning for Ute Tribes

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DENVER—When the three Ute tribes of present-day Colorado and Utah convened at the Tri-Ute Council April 27 they focused on their younger tribal members’ needs and on ways to provide for them in the future.

The first presentation of the day concerned a proposed Tri-Ute Youth Leadership Conference that is planned for August 8-10 at Fort Lewis College, in Durango, Colorado, where 75 students each from the three tribes would be mixed by age and by membership in the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, or Northern Ute Tribes to promote cultural learning, leadership training and networking.

Both Southern Ute Tribal Chairwoman Pearl Casias and Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Chairman Gary Hayes, who chaired the Tri-Ute meeting, stressed the importance to youth of adult involvement in their growth.

Casias said that if cultural and spiritual awareness are fostered in each child, they learn “what it means to be a Ute child—what it means to be an Indian” and “If you know who you are, you know where you’re going to go.” Ute children should be able to get school credit for attending tribal council meetings as “a part of their curriculum,” she suggested.

Hayes noted that Ute children do well in elementary school, but “in middle school it starts to decline and in high school it goes completely down—something happens,” and he said the youth feel discriminated against—“They’re just ‘there.’” Events like the proposed youth leadership conference “give them confidence,” he said.

Close behind the youth conference presentation were discussions about ways to support the next generation via tribal resources ranging from a new casino proposed by the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, Utah (Northern Utes) in their aboriginal territory to increasingly scarce water resources.

The Northern Utes have been in discussion with the City Council of Dinosaur, located in northwestern Colorado just across the state line from gaming-hostile Utah, about a casino which “would not be located in an area that would have any adverse economic impact on existing gaming facilities within the state of Colorado,” according to the tribe’s presentation.

For the casino to become a reality, the BIA would have to accept the gaming parcel into trust for the benefit of the Northern Utes in an off-reservation acquisition and the tribe would have to establish its right to conduct gaming on the parcel under Indian Gaming Regulatory Act rules requiring the concurrence of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Water issues concerned Davis Wing, Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council member, who is water trustee for Ute and other tribes using flows of the Colorado River. They meet with the Upper and Lower Basin states of the Colorado River Compact to analyze water distribution in an era of increasing shortage.

Tribes are looking at projections for the next 50 years in light of booming population growth, lower snowmelt runoff, and possible water shortages, he said, noting that Lakes Mead and Powell are filling at a rate of only about 60 percent. At a meeting May 19-20 in Las Vegas, tribes and other Colorado River users will talk about ways to allocate water equitably, he added.

The Northern Utes’ future economic planning calls for an estimated 5,000 new oil and gas wells on the reservation over the next 15 years, and to that end the tribe has looked for a more efficient permitting process, said Irene Cuch, a member of the tribe’s governing business committee, who testified recently about energy related issues before the House Committee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.

She said the tribe may also review the Ute Indian Water Compact with an eye to leasing water in-state and possibly out-of-state. The compact was the result of the federal government’s deferring tribal water projects after it diverted water some 40 years ago for use in the Central Utah Project. Ron Wopsock, also a business committee member, said the tribe “was not being paid top dollar for that water that’s being diverted.”

Marjorie Borst, of the Southern Ute Tribal Council, said a 230 kilovolt transmission line that will cross Southern Ute tribal lands as the San Juan Basin Energy Connect Project will enable the expansion of solar energy.

The tribes are meeting as the Tri-Ute Council three times yearly at alternating locations.