Why we celebrate Leonard C. Burch Day as a Tribal Holiday

SU Drum archive
SU Drum archive

Leonard C. Burch Day, December 10

This day of recognition was established on December 10, 1996 and is celebrated each year as a Tribal Holiday.

Mr. Leonard C. Burch served was elected to the Southern Ute Tribal Council at the young age of 32 in 1966 and served for Chairman for 28 years. Under his leadership, the Southern Ute Tribe emerged from relative poverty to become a major economic force in the Four Corners Region and the largest employer in LaPlata County. Fueled principally by successful development of the Tribe’s natural gas resources, the Burch era saw countless examples of community development and improvements in education and health and social programs available to Tribal Members.

These are just a few of Mr. Burch’s outstanding achievements:

  • Mr. Burch was invited by five separate United States Presidents to attend conferences on Indian policy at the White House.
  • During his tenure he appeared innumerable times before Committees of Congress on matters affecting the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Southwestern Colorado.
  • He successfully obtained passage of federal laws permitting the Tribe to consolidate land holdings within the reservation and address complex jurisdictional issues. The gaming compact between the State of Colorado and the Tribe and a taxation compact among the State of Colorado, the County of LaPlata and the Tribe were each negotiated during his tenure in office.
  • In the later years of his career he worked closely with other members of the Tribal Council to establish and implement successful financial investments both on and off the reservation. The financial progress of the Tribe has been widely touted as a model for Indian tribes throughout the country.
  • He helped forge a coalition of Indian and non-Indian water users in southwestern Colorado to advocate for construction of the Animas-LaPlata Project, a water storage facility built by the Bureau of Reclamation as part of a settlement of the Tribe’s water rights claims. In recognition of his role in this regard, he received the Citizens Award from the United States Bureau of Reclamation.
  • As an Air Force Veteran, Mr. Leonard Burch was honored to lead the Walk of Warriors every Memorial Day.
  • He received numerous awards in recognition of his lifetime achievements and contributions, including:
    • The Durango Area Citizen of the Year Award (1997)
    • The 15th Annual Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award (2002)
    • The Council of Energy Resource Tribe’s Achievement Award (2002).

Throughout his life, Mr. Burch remained respectful of the culture and traditional ways of the Ute people. He participated continuously in the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s Sundance as both a dancer and Sundance Chief and he supported programs to preserve the Ute language and the Tribe’s museum.

His life was one of dedication and service to his family, 7 girls and his wife Irene, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Four Corners Region. 

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