The Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council held a General Meeting for the tribal membership on Friday, April 29 to discuss updates within the tribe and to hear questions and concerns from tribal members. Along with Tribal Council, the Growth Fund, Permanent Fund and Sky Ute Casino Resort all presented information to the membership.
Acting Chief Financial Officer, David Gullickson gave an update on the Permanent Fund’s finances.
“We want to ensure you we invest wisely, and we do … the tribe has set things aside to position the tribe well,” Gullickson said about the Permanent Fund’s investments. “When I tell you the Permanent Fund is healthy, it is. But that doesn’t mean we are not susceptible to the market.”
Gullickson also said that the tribe has the highest credit rating you can get in the world, and that’s just the Permanent Fund, not including the Growth Fund.
Also presenting from the Permanent Fund was acting Tribal Health Director, Kaylor Shemberger. He used his time to talk to the membership about tribal member health benefits and services the department provides.
“We are trying to improve on our support to tribal members,” he said.
He mentioned the department has received $80,000 worth of funding for breast cancer and cervical cancer screening. The Shining Mountain Health and Wellness Program also had a five-year diabetes grant renewed.
Shemberger said, tribal members have accessed the tribes medical insurance in 48 states and is aware that timeliness of claims has been an issue.
To help with the claims, Tribal Health is looking for a new third party program, which better emulates the tribal employee insurance, he said.
The Health Department is also working on limiting the number of health cards tribal members need. The plan is to consolidate it down to only one card that can be used for health insurance and pharmacy purposes.
Tribal member’s expressed concerns about hours of operation and the high turnover of clinic staff. Shemberger said clinic hours are also being reviewed with a possibility of extending hours of operation.
“Continuity is the way to better health,” Shemberger said about the need to hire and retain employees.
Sky Ute Casino Resort
The casino discussed finances and marketing of the casino. The casino is now hosting more conferences, banquets and events, Chief Financial Officer, Christine Hudgens said. Coming up the casino will be hosting the Indian Motorcycle Rendezvous on June 9-11.
She also recapped on all the conferences hosted at the casino the past year including the American Indian Alaskan Native Tourism Association Conference, and the National Native American Purchasing Association Conference.
Tribal members voiced concerns about casino food, smoking rooms and slot machines.
Some tribal members think the food could be better, and service at the restaurants could improve. As far as smoking rooms in the hotel, General Manager Charley Flagg said they have cut down the number of smoking rooms last fall.
A few elders voiced concerns about the amount of noise the machines make. Flagg, said he had the sound turned down on machines before so he will look into it again.
Flagg also updated the tribe on the hiring of the General Manager Apprentice, tribal member Krista Red, who will be taking over his position in the next few years.
Tribal Council presented information to the membership about the dissolution of the museum at the meeting.
Last Friday, May 6 was the official date of the dissolution. Tribal member, Linda Baker is the Museum Transition Representative and is in charge of the inventory and intake.
Tribal Council also said that it is the choice of the loaners to leave or take back their items, but they wanted to assure tribal members that the items are stored safely and the staff is qualified. Council also mentioned that the National Museum of American Indians and other entities are willing to provide items on loan to the tribe’s museum.
All the Growth Fund companies were scheduled to present, but due to time restraints outgoing Operating Director Bob Zahradnik, CFO Darrell Owen and Executive Director Bruce Valdez provided only a condensed version of a four-hour presentation.
Tribal member’s main concerns were focused on the low oil and gas prices and how that will affect the tribe.
Zahradnik said that this early in the year it’s hard to predict the exact impact.
According to CNN Money, oil prices plunged to a 13-year low of $26.05 a barrel in February 2016; which proved to be a troubling month for the Growth Fund as well.
“Every business has bad times that’s how capitalism works,” Zahradnik said.
Some predications indicate that oil prices could be back up to $60 a barrel by the end of the year, but no one can be sure, Zahradnik said.
“There are always booms and busts, it’s just the oil business,” he said.
Valdez agreed with Zahradnik and reiterated to the membership that they do not know where oil prices will end up.
“We’ve seen recovery start to happen and we think we’ve seen the bottom,” Valdez said. “With the good there are risks, and this is what we have to navigate through.”
Tribal Council will host another General Meeting this summer as new information becomes available.