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Ute Leaders Plan 2012

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New solutions to longstanding problems are on the wish list of Colorado’s two Ute tribes in 2012, a year that likely will continue the now-familiar situation of diminishing revenues and growing needs.

Lt. Gov. Joseph Garcia, chairman of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA), told tribal officials January 9 that the most needy must be served and economic development encouraged despite the “presence of a growing population and a weak economy.”

In Colorado overall since 2008, Medicaid recipients have increased by 72 percent, children’s health programs by 20 percent, K-12 enrollment by 7 percent, and higher education enrollment up by more than 20 percent, marking the presence of “a growing population and a weak economy,” he said.

At the same time, leaders of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, both with headquarters in southwestern Colorado, noted that the old shortfalls remain in health, housing, education, economic development and sovereignty.

Gary Hayes, Ute Mountain Ute tribal chairman, said that from housing to health care, “the needs are out there” and the federal government should meet its treaty and other obligations “regardless of what’s going on in the economy.”

On-reservation enterprises are difficult because more than 40 permits may have to be approved to drill for oil, for example, under regulations unchanged from the 1950s or earlier, making it difficult to take care of tribal members “and someday be self-sufficient,” he said.

Jimmy Newton, recently elected Southern Ute tribal chairman, said the Southern Ute tribal code is being revised to reflect sovereignty and the tribe is in “crisis mode” to preserve its language.

Terry Knight, a Ute Mountain Ute spiritual leader, urged tribal consultation before federal-state negotiations and planning, he said programs should be approved by tribal councils because the tribe is “a sovereign group.”

In addition to addressing problems, the CCIA ratified the appointment of Ernest House Jr., Ute Mountain Ute, as CCIA executive secretary. He served in that position from 2005 to 2010 and returned to it after Garcia and others decided in 2010 it was time to “improve the level of service to the (Ute) tribes.”

The meeting was one of four held annually by the CCIA, which acts as liaison for government-to-government relations with the two Ute tribal nations currently within the state’s boundaries and performs services for the wider Colorado Indian population.