More than 60 years after the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose, Colorado, first opened its doors, this Saturday it will debut its renovation and expansion—with a fresh, contemporary perspective. While the museum has long housed beautiful artifacts that reflect the rich past of the Nuchuu, the people, today it also highlights a living, breathing culture.
Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, a former Ute Mountain Ute Tribe councilwoman, frequently encountered the misconception that American Indians in Colorado no longer exist, or live in tepees and ride horses. So it was critical to her and others on the museum’s consultation committee that the museum showcase modern Ute life—that it “convey that the Utes are not gone. We are still very much alive,” she told The Daily Sentinel. “We want people to know the correct aspects of our people.”
Beautiful curved walls and vibrant colors represent Ute tribal identity. The exhibit unfold counterclockwise—the way Ute ceremonies are conducted—taking visitors on a journey to iconic places in Colorado, told through the voices of tribal members. Artifacts, photographs, art and crafts, and more reflect Ute cultural survival, political self-determination, economic opportunity and the celebration of the Bear Dance.
The original Ute Indian Museum opened its doors in 1956. After three years of planning and its year and a half closure, the new Ute Indian Museum, administered by History Colorado, debuts with a celebration on Saturday, June 10. A buffalo feast followed by dancing, singing and storytelling will commemorate the grand re-opening. Representatives of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Southern Ute Tribe and the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, as well as other dignitaries, will also deliver speeches.
Ute contemporary culture is certainly cast “in a new light” at the updated Ute Indian Museum in Montrose, said CJ Brafford, the museum director, through items such as beaded cell phone case, an oil rig drill bit, and a Bear Dance shawl. A gift shop offers Native American-made items for sale. Brafford, Ogalala Lakota, originally from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, prefers to go by “care-keeper” of the museum’s treasures, according to The Daily Sentinel.
Among the historic artifacts that have never been on display before is a velvet dress belonging to Chipeta and a painted hide, The Southern Ute Drum.
Outside, a Colorado White Pine timber structure presides over a patio with stunning views of the San Juan Mountains. The grounds also feature Ute Chief Ouray and Chipeta’s natural spring, Chipeta’s gravesite, a native plants garden and a display about the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition of 1776. In front, five flags fly, including those of the three Ute tribes, as well as the United States and Colorado flags.