A group of Southern Ute tribal elders gathered on Wednesday, Sept. 28 to discuss what could be done with the $126 million settlement the tribe received from the tribe’s breach of trust case. The Tribe joined nine other tribes in suing the United States for failing to provide an accounting of tribal trust accounts and for mismanaging trust assets and non-monetary trust resources. Tribal members have been sent a letter regarding the case and the settlement.
Tribal elder Arlene Millich made the suggestion of investing into career services for the youth who graduate high school.
“We need to think about the younger generation and help them get jobs, because a lot of them aren’t even working,” Millich stated. “My grandma used to make me pull weeds in her garden. She made me go all along that garden front to back, weeding and planting. Our younger generation nowadays refuses to work.”
Tribal elder Phyllis Escalante also weighed in on the subject of career services.
“I see a lot of kids who are not graduating, that’s why we have elders concerned about these kids finding jobs,” she stated. “Most choose to live off the Tribe monthly rather than establish themselves. What are we raising? There’s no push for work or discipline on our youth. They have to find the answers/choices in their lives and do it for themselves.”
Tribal elder Lynda Grove D’Wolf expressed deep concern in government leadership, both federal and tribal.
“Come election time, we really need to take a look at who our candidates are,” she stated. “We need to elect people that are competent and can read financial contracts. I’ve been going around the reservation gathering signatures, because I know a lot of tribal members that are very upset with the leadership. We need stronger leaders who can ensure us that none of this mismanaging will never happen again, because it’s our money, and it belongs to us.”
The group discussed the letter sent to tribal members outlining the settlement in greater detail.
“Nobody other than our community will know how to use this money effectively,” stated Kevin Frost. “This letter we received needs to have more of a community driven response. Tribal members need to be involved so they know where our money is going. When I look at us on the reservation in comparison to the rest of the world, it feels like we’re still in the 1970s.”
A majority of the attending elders came to a consensus that the settlement money should be invested in other resources, rather than the Southern Ute Growth Fund.
“This settlement doesn’t go to the Growth Fund, it goes to the individuals,” said tribal elder Erwin Taylor. “Don’t let the non-natives divide us, and don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in. Have faith in these young educators and these younger folks who are running for council.”
“We deserve a share of the cake,” added Lynda Grove D’Wolf. “I think half of the settlement money should go back to our membership, and the other half should be invested in some other type of entity, not the Growth Fund. The Growth Fund wouldn’t even have jobs for their employees if it weren’t for us. This runaway train really has to stop – it’s getting ridiculous.”
Tribal elder Pearl Casias also showed displeasure in awarding the Growth Fund part of the settlement, suggesting to use the investments in revitalizing the Ute language program.
“I think the money should go into a full blown Ute language education program through our cultural center, since it’s still a major commodity for us as Southern Utes,” Casias declared. “It’s the Growth Fund who has kept us from making inadequate investments. So much money has been lost these past couple of years by the Growth Fund’s leadership. It is up to Tribal Council to make sure that doesn’t happen again in the future. We need to confront our Tribal Council and tell them to do a better job and to stay dedicated in providing for our membership.”
Tribal elder Judy Lansing added her own suggestions.
“I’d like to see half of the settlement go to the elders, and the other half go towards juvenile services to help our youth with education, and for those who feel like they are having trouble in this world. Since the Growth Fund didn’t invest well enough to where the tribal members have continuous income coming in, I think they should have no more bonuses from here, and that the management committee should also be released of their duties as they were responsible for overlooking the finances for the tribal membership. The management committee should have understood how the Growth Fund was managing the tribal members’ investments.”
“My thoughts are to look at what we have and utilize our culture,” stated elder Marjorie Borst. “We need more communication with our people, and to know and understand the legalities of everything we get into.”