Ute Leaders Discuss American Indian Education

Ute tribal leaders recently met with the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs to discuss Native American education.

From plans for a new college to concerns about soaring tuition costs, officials of the Southern Ute Indian and Ute Mountain Ute tribes grappled with the promises and difficulties of education in the 21st century.

They met with state representatives and others March 24 at a meeting of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA) at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Bradley Hight, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe vice chairman, described plans for a college in Towaoc, the tribe’s headquarters in southwestern Colorado, a community of just over 1,000 residents.

A technical college will open this summer and a full-fledged college will be established within 5 years, with assistance from the University of Colorado, the Navajo Nation, and Utah State University – College of Eastern Utah, he said.

In nearby Ignacio, headquarters of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, council member Pathini Good Tracks said the Southern Ute Indian Montessori Academy may soon become the first Montessori-accredited school in Indian country.

Treaty-mandated Native free tuition at Durango, Colorado’s Fort Lewis College (FLC)—an ongoing concern of Native American students and their families—will continue and the number of recipients won’t be capped, but the state should look to the federal government for assistance in reimbursing millions of dollars in tuition costs for tribal members from outside Colorado, said Lt. Gov. Joseph Garcia, CCIA chairman.

For the 725 out-of-state Native students—out of a total 860 Native students at FLC—nonresident tuition is approximately $12.8 million, according to FLC and USNews.

Terry Knight, spiritual leader, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, at a Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs meeting.

Terry Knight, spiritual leader, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, at a Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs meeting.

The FLC Native American Tuition Waiver Program currently before Congress would call for Colorado to reimburse FLC for in-state Natives’ tuition costs and for those costs “that exceed the proposed federal funding for American Indian and Alaska Native students who are not residents of Colorado,” according to a joint resolution of the Colorado General Assembly in support of the federal bill.

“We need to see how we could talk to the feds for them to live up to their treaties to provide for the well-being of Indian people,” said Terry Knight, a spiritual leader of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. “The feds sloughed off their responsibility onto the state of Colorado.”

Juanita Plenty Holes, a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council, questioned whether the state is holding school districts accountable for the funds they receive.

Ernest House Jr., CCIA executive secretary, said CCIA plans to convene a summit on juvenile justice and truancy codes, and discussions will also be held on education issues, including the rising cost of tuition payments and the federal role in their reimbursement.