Ute voices, tribal histories shared in Denver

Southern Ute Brave, Levi Lopez is one of the first to interact and view the newly opened “Written on the Land” Ute exhibit on Friday, Dec. 7.
Mike Santistevan stops to read and interact with spinning blocks that are a part of the “Written on the Land” exhibit during the Ute Tribal member only opening on Friday, Dec. 7 at History Colorado.
Southern Ute Councilmembers, Adam Red and Lorelei Cloud stop and admire an old saddle exhibited in the “Written on the Land” Ute exhibit.
U.S. Navy Veteran and Southern Ute tribal member, Raymond Baker attends the exhibition opening of “Written on the Land” on Friday, Dec. 7.
Miss Southern Ute, Jazmine Carmenoros shows her support for the public opening of the “Written on the Land” exhibit on Saturday, Dec. 8. She also participates in a special presentation of cultural dances.
Tiny tot dancer, Mia Lopez round dances with groups of people that were attending the general public exhibition opening of “Written on the Land” on Saturday, Dec. 8.
Southern Ute Brave, Levi Lopez dances during a special presentation of different types of powwow categories on the day the “Written on the Land” opened its doors to the public, Saturday, Dec. 8.
Ute veterans, leaders and members came together to support and view the opening of the new “Written on the Land” exhibit on Saturday, Dec 8.
Cultural Preservation NAGPRA Coordinator, Cassandra Atencio explains the importance and significance of Miss Southern Ute, Jazmine Carmenoros' regalia on Saturday, Dec. 8.
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum

The long awaited, “Written on the Land: Ute Voices, Ute History,” exhibit opened its doors a day early for a special Ute tribal member opening on Friday, Dec. 7 at History Colorado in Denver, and an official opening was held Saturday, Dec. 8 for the general public. Ute elders, tribal leaders and youth were in attendance for the opening of this world class collection of historical artifacts, contemporary photography, oral and written stories.

This exhibit was made possible through the collaborative efforts of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Ute Indian Tribe, History Colorado and many more.

Walking through the exhibit, visitors feel like they’re on a journey. This journey takes them through iconic Colorado lands that the Ute people have resided on for years. “This exhibit is just a small part — a sliver of the story of Ute people,” Southern Ute elder Alden Naranjo states.

Bringing the history and knowledge of Ute people to modern-day Colorado residents, will ensure that the presence of authentic Ute voices and perspective are narrated correctly.

“This [exhibit] has been in the works for years—I’m happy to see it come to life,” Ernest House Jr. stated at the opening reception for the Ute tribes. Spanning four years, the original exhibit planning period included many meetings with tribal representatives, who worked to create a space for the collection to come to life. History Colorado and the tribes worked side by side to collect contemporary artifacts and to gather and interpret tribal stories. According to a press release from History Colorado “Written on the Land will be a long-term exhibit—responding to ongoing requests from visitors and educators for more American Indian history and exhibits.”

“The exhibit was opened with the intention of sharing Ute history by using information from the Utes,” Executive Director of History Colorado, Steve Turner shared. “We have been working with your [Ute] elders to learn STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) concepts that your people used.”

Museum visitors get to hear first-hand how the Ute people came about; the “Written on the Land,” exhibit features the creation story and bear dance story being told in the Ute language and translated into English. Unlike most American Indian exhibits that primarily focus on the past, “Written on the Land” brings history to the present day and shows what lives for Ute tribal members look like now.

By mixing historic and contemporary art, photography and digital experiences, History Colorado is “honoring the tribes that help make up Colorado’s ethnicity,” Turner stated.  Historic water baskets, cradleboards, and photos are all on display at the History Colorado. With the donation of artifacts, and guidance of the Ute people, this exhibit is being praised as a “Strong story told through our elders and scientists who are working together to write our history,” Miss Southern Ute Jazmine Carmenoros stated.

Leading up to the public opening, Ute elders and advisors could be found sharing stories, reuniting with one another and laughter filled the halls of the gallery. In one room, Ute Mountain Ute elder Terry Knight, Edward Box III, Cassandra Atencio and Garret Briggs of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe were sharing memories of growing up as a Ute and their thoughts on the new exhibit. “When you walk into that exhibit, you will see vibrancy—because our people are thriving and that shows in there,” Southern Ute Cultural Preservation NAGPRA coordinator Cassandra Atencio stated.

“There were Ute scientists before there were science, and Ute astronomers before there was astronomy!” Southern Ute NAGPRA Apprentice Coordinator Garrett Briggs shared with a laugh.

“The Utes are here and were staying here,” Knight declared.

Before “Written on the Land,” officially opened, Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Ute Indian heritage dancers stepped out into the lobby to share traditional powwow dances and singing.

Yellow Jacket Drum group of Ignacio, Colo. provide the drumming and singing for the performers to dance to. The audience was encouraged to participate as a round dance song began. As the event ended, people of all ages can be seen holding hands, laughing and smiling as the last beat is rings out in the great hall of History Colorado.


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