Hello and greetings – this is Chairman Jimmy R. Newton Jr., and I am taking this opportunity to report to you, the tribal membership, about recent developments and projects on which the Tribal Council and I have been working.
Since my State of the Tribe report earlier this year, we have been quite busy and I cannot report everything here; however, I would like to provide some highlights and important issues that we are addressing.
First, as I reported in my State of the Tribe address, we continue to work on improving health care options for tribal members. As many of you may have heard at our recent general meeting, we are committed to improving services at the Southern Ute Health Center and to providing tribal members with greater access to help with health care decisions.
We still aim to roll out these new programs in time for the new fiscal year, but the pending implementation of the federal health care law and other issues could make that process much more complex. Regardless, we will continue to strive to provide our members with the best health care available and to provide access to health services that benefits the most tribal members possible in perpetuity.
As with health care, the Tribal Council and I also remain committed to increasing employment opportunities for tribal members. As we reported during the general meeting, this administration has greatly increased the number of tribal-member employees, but we always seek to improve.
Recently, we received a report on the assessment that Tribal Council commissioned regarding our employment practices and, as a result of that report, we are taking additional actions to assist tribal members who are qualified and ready to enter or re-enter the tribal workforce.
One way we hope to do so is to strengthen the bonds and connections between our educational programs and our employment needs, so that tribal members can develop skills to fill the tribe’s needs. Ultimately, we hope to see a day where each tribal member who wishes to work can find an opportunity of interest to him or her and, hopefully, many of those opportunities will also meet the tribe’s needs.
The Tribal Council and I continue to face frustration with the state of the Southern Ute Agency of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. We have been working with Superintendent John Waconda to address the staff and budget shortages plaguing his office and to make sure that tribal business and transactions can continue despite these issues.
As a result of sequestration and other cuts, the agency’s realty program is staffed only by an administrative assistant – a situation that is unacceptable given the number of transactions generated by the tribe on a regular basis. We are exploring our options for increasing or at least maintaining efficiency in this time of slim federal budgets, and Vice Chairman James M. Olguin has taken the lead in working with Waconda to enhance communication and cooperation between the bureau and the tribe.
Some of these concerns were a topic of Council Lady Pathimi GoodTracks’ recent visit to Washington, D.C., as well. She represented the tribe and provided input on President Obama’s proposed FY 2014 budget for Indian Country and took the opportunity to raise our concerns about the local BIA agency and its ongoing struggles.
We also had the chance to meet with officials from the White House and Department of Agriculture, who recently visited to take part in events at the new Chimney Rock National Monument with children from our Southern Ute Indian Montessori Academy.
In our meetings with these officials, we again sought assistance to address our concerns, and all participants were quite receptive.
Recently, the Tribal Council participated in an annual retreat, which gave us time to analyze and consider the larger issues we face, such as the tribe’s Financial Plan and the concepts that support our current structure. During these discussions, it was quite impressive to compare the state of the tribe when the Financial Plan was considered and adopted to our present situation.
The chairmen and councils that have preceded us have built a strong foundation for us and, during our retreat discussions, we each recognized the important role of this Tribal Council in continuing to uphold that legacy by planning and preparing for the future generations of tribal members.
We returned from the retreat with a long list of “to-dos,” and will be getting to work on these issues even as we handle the day-to-day matters that come before us.
To keep up with the ever changing pace of technology, the Southern Ute Department of Management Information Services has launched a user-friendly website so our membership near and far can keep up with events and departmental information.
The Southern Ute Drum has revamped its website to include sound bites and video. The easy navigation makes for a good read. Now you will not have to wait for the most important tribal news to come out in the print version; you can see it almost immediately on the Drum website.
In the very near future, we will be rolling out a “tribal-member access only” website. This website will be a hub for important tribal-member-only information. You will be able to see the minutes almost immediately and other information pertaining to Tribal Council events and meetings. Be on the lookout for more technology-based communication channels in the future.
Finally, if you have not done so yet, I urge you and your friends and family members to visit the new Seven Rivers Steakhouse at the Sky Ute Casino Resort. I enjoyed a fine meal there during grand opening weekend and can strongly recommend the “chairman’s cut.” Anyone who visits will be sure to have a good experience and will be supporting our tribal enterprise.
In conclusion, thank you for taking the time to read this brief report of some of the recent highlights and ongoing work that the Tribal Council and I are doing to serve the tribal membership. We hope we can count on your support to help us lead this tribe into the future and ensure a healthy and strong tribe for our children, grandchildren, and beyond.