With the signing of the deed to convert the Cabezon Ranch property from fee to trust status on Friday, Dec. 7, the Southern Ute Indian Reservation became a little more whole again.
The property, which covers approximately 772 acres in the north-central area of the reservation, was purchased by the tribe several years ago. It remained in fee simple status while the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs processed the tribe’s application for conversion to trust status. That process was completed with a simple, low-key deed signing in Southern Ute Chairman Jimmy R. Newton Jr.’s office.
“I’m glad that’s taken care of,” Newton said after signing. “Let’s move onto the next project and get our land back.”
Signing for the BIA was John Waconda, superintendent of its Southern Ute Agency. The bureau is as happy as the tribe is to see ancestral Ute land returning to tribal control, he said.
“Within the BIA, this has been identified as one of our top priorities: to assist the tribe in converting lands to trust status,” he said. “It often times promotes and supports economic development, bringing back historical lands that were once owned by the tribe.”
Under trust status, the land “belongs to the tribe, but it’s held in trust by the federal government,” Waconda said. Among other things, that means it falls under tribal jurisdiction for police and courts, is free of sales and property taxes, and cannot be sold without the approval of both the tribe and the federal government, he said.
Newton said reclaiming land has a special significance to the Southern Ute people.
“Instead of saying ‘Oh, they took our land,’ we’re getting it back,” he said. “It’s for our people. Without our land, we wouldn’t be who we are.”
Tribal and BIA leaders aren’t resting long before tackling the next project. The tribe has applied for trust status for another parcel of land on the extreme east side of the reservation called Redding Ranch. If approved, that property would actually expand the outer boundary of the reservation, Waconda said.
The BIA hopes to have a deed ready for signing by March 2013, he said.