Health care, economic development, the production of a new Ute museum, and the recreation of Lake Night Horse were among the topics addressed at the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA) meeting held in Denver from March 19 to March 20. The consultations were hosted at History of Colorado and the Governor’s Mansion with members of Tribal Council, Southern Ute Royalty, and the Sunshine Cloud Smith Youth Advisory Council representing the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. Additionally, council members of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe were present to discuss the expansions in their community. The meetings are held quarterly to provide updates and discuss general progression inside and outside sovereign lands.
Ernest House Jr., executive director of CCIA, welcomed all in attendance with admiration.
“It’s an honor to be with you all today,” he addressed. “Every year we do a Ute Day at the State Capitol and we’re making it more formal … Our goal is to have these constant communications and build up on each tribal consultation that happens each year.”
The recreation of Lake Nighthorse, located in Durango, has been an ongoing debate between the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Tribes and La Plata County as far as opening the lake to the public.
For years, the project has experienced several decades of delays due to cultural concerns, environmental challenges, and government funding issues. Current expansion of the project appears to be going in the right direction, although Tribal Council still expressed concerns in regards to the recreation.
“It’s very important that we treat our water with respect as far as its uses go,” Southern Ute Tribal Chairman, Clement J. Frost said. “This comes from our tribal membership. We’re not in a hurry to rush into recreation, we want to know how to utilize the water because we want the city of Durango to understand the spiritual relationship with our water.”
“I think everyone who’s pushing for the recreation of Lake Nighthorse needs to understand why we need to do it the right way,” added Vice Chairman, Melvin J. Baker.
Lake Nighthorse wasn’t the only recreational subject addressed at the CCIA meeting. Since the beginning of 2014, the legalization of cannabis has been a hot topic, especially since the United States Department of Justice recently issued that the federal government would not pursue marijuana offenses within the confines of tribal lands.
Ernest House Jr. addressed the matter of establishing dispensaries on the reservations after receiving requests from various companies. As of now, the Pinoleville Pomo Nation is the only tribe in the United States who has approved the use of cannabis on their land.
“I’ve received dozens of requests from marijuana and hemp companies who wish to do presentations on how they plan to bring in regulation,” House stated. “We’re doing research on different states who are looking towards it. It would be something interesting for the tribe’s to use and consider so that the leaders are aware of what’s going and be more informed.”
Frost declared that the tribe may see interest in the recreation of marijuana, but as of now, they’re not rushing into the business of it.
“As a tribe, we’re not hurting on economic development in regards to hemp and marijuana,” he addressed. “It seems like we’re not in a hurry to have that influence us economically. Tribal Council may be interested in listening, though we’re not really pushing to get into that type of business right now.”
“On a cultural side, I think both tribes are a little hesitant on the recreation.” added Ute Mountain Ute Chairman, Manuel Heart. “We’re all working on it, but it was through reluctance that we pushed towards this recreation.”
Sunshine Cloud Smith Youth Advisory Council
The Sunshine Cloud Smith Youth Advisory Council participated in their first CCIA meeting of the year, allowing members to study the importance of government organization, policies, and community leadership. Youth Councilmen Randy Herrera, Cameron Weaver, and Lakota TwoCrow were among the members present.
The Council toured a number of historical Denver landmarks while making a stop at the State Capitol where they attended a politicians meeting and were engaged in subject matters throughout Colorado.
Afterwards, the Council met with Southern Ute Royalty and Tribal Council at the Governor’s Mansion for a special get together with the state representatives.
Youth Councilman, Lakota TwoCrow, described his first real experience in politics.
“It was a fantastic because I got to see how the government operates from my own perspective,” he said. “I’m learning how to organize and make sure things have been put into place. I would like to listen for opportunities of improvement and project that in meetings so I can be a stronger secretary.”
TwoCrow is one of the newest members of the Sunshine Youth Advisory Council. He was sworn in at the beginning of March and joins council members, Larenz Wilbourn, Issac Suina, Cameron Weaver, Randy Herrera, Elijah Weaver, and Lonicia O’John.
The Council is in the process of tackling common subjects for the younger community, including broader education, drug awareness, and the roles of leadership.