Returning to council, Olguin aims to ‘protect our future’

James M. Olguin recites an oath of office in the Tribal Council Chambers on Monday, Dec. 16.
Damon Toledo | The Southern Ute Drum

In 2010, James M. Olguin campaigned for a seat on the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council on the promise of a “vision for a stronger tomorrow.”

Three years later, in an interview with the Drum following his Monday, Dec. 16 swearing in, Olguin said that promise has been largely fulfilled. The challenge now?

“Protecting our future,” he said, echoing the slogan he repeated often in the months before this year’s election.

“We built up to where we are now,” Olguin said, referring to what he sees as recent improvements to the council’s efficiency and overall management of tribal organizations. “We’ve got to make sure we protect that.”

Chief among the council’s achievements over the past three years, Olguin said, is its “elevated” perspective: The group now deals less with routine Permanent Fund issues and more with setting the course for the entire tribe for the long term.

“Our job now is to take this opportunity to continue to build,” he said. “Being ingrained in the day-to-day affairs of the Permanent Fund is over. Keep the big picture in mind: It’s the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, not the Permanent Fund, not the Growth Fund, not the casino.”

Increases in the council’s efficiency, especially with respect to technology, have facilitated that change, Olguin said. Council members are now dealing primarily with electronic documents and doing much of their work on the computer, reducing the length of weekly meetings and enabling the council to respond better to urgent issues, he said.

All of Indian Country has begun to look at the Southern Ute Tribe as a leader in many areas, and maintaining that reputation will take leaders committed to strategic planning for the future, he said.

“We can go backward very easily if there’s not a plan. People are watching us,” he said.

Olguin said it’s important to acknowledge the work of dedicated staff in getting the tribe to this point.

“It’s the competence of the staff that’s really making us who we are today,” he said, also stressing the importance of placing tribal members in key roles. “They see a future here in which greater things can come forth.”

Going forward, Olguin said his goals are threefold: developing a plan to maintain momentum, improving relations with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, and keeping the tribal member at the forefront of all the council’s considerations.

“At the end of the day, if we don’t keep the membership in mind, then why are we doing this?” he said.

Finally, Olguin wished all tribal members “happy holidays and a safe celebration.”

“Thanks to the members that voted,” he said. “It’s good to be back.”

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