As the last participant in the Tri-Ute Games’ Ute Warrior Challenge crossed the finish line on Thursday, July 25, a group of friends cheered her on.
That moment was at the heart of what the games are all about, said SunUte Community Center Director Kristi Garnanez.
“To me, it was a success,” she said of this year’s event, which the Southern Ute Indian Tribe hosted in Ignacio July 22-25 for young members of the three Ute tribes. “By the end, I think the kids kind of knew each other. … You can’t change things overnight; that’s for sure. But we can at least plant that seed to start letting these kids know, ‘You are sister tribes. You are relations.’”
This year marked the second time the Southern Ute Tribe has hosted the games, the first being in 2009. Attendance at this year’s games was nearly double that of any other year’s, according to SunUte Recreation Manager Kevin Winkler, with more than 100 athletes from each tribe participating. The previous attendance record was 175 overall, he said.
The games kicked off Monday, July 22 with an opening ceremony and dinner followed by team-building activities at the Sky Ute Casino Resort.
Individual and team contests began in earnest the following morning, with archery at Scott’s Pond and golf at Hunter’s Run Golf Course in Ignacio beginning the day. Spanning both Tuesday and Wednesday were boys’ and girls’ basketball, volleyball, hand games and bowling.
Basketball teams were organized by tribe on the first day, but players were mixed up and organized into teams by random draw for day two, Garnanez said.
“We actually got a lot of comments from the kids themselves that they were glad we did it,” she said.
Other events included swimming, skateboarding and a class in “Winterguard” — a relative of color guard — for children too young to participate anywhere else.
Each evening, Tri-Ute athletes relaxed with a social gathering: a “dive-in” movie night at the SunUte pool on Tuesday, and a medals ceremony and dance on Wednesday.
The games wrapped up Thursday morning with two final events: the Ute Warrior Challenge, which included components of running, swimming, climbing and archery; and a demonstration of shinny, a traditional Ute game akin to field hockey.
A closing ceremony and feast then took place.
Garnanez said her team is energized by the success of the event and looking forward to working with the Northern Ute Tribe, which is scheduled to host the next one.
“We’ve kind of set that foundation, and we want to see that be built upon,” she said. “You come off that high of knowing that you put on a successful event. … We’re really excited.”
Garnanez said that because the North American Indigenous Games are scheduled for next summer in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, it hasn’t been determined yet when the next Tri-Ute Games will occur.