Influencing tribal members on cultural awareness and Ute history has always been the main goal for the Southern Ute Culture Department. Every year, the department holds a number of activities for tribal members to partake in, including shawl making classes, tipi raising, beadwork, and sewing just to name a few.
The task for the department has been a significant one as modern times have turned towards the world of social media and pop culture. Awareness in history has decreased, and only a select number of tribal members can still speak their native language. The effort has been ongoing, and more youth have shown other interests. But with proper lecture, the culture still has a chance to continue on successfully. It begins with a voice, and that voice delivers the history, stories, and language according to Marge Barry, cultural education coordinator.
“With our department, it’s more about sharing the history,” she said. “It’s time for us to pick up on those stories and ask questions about those times. We have classes that teach everything about our culture … we try to accommodate our tribal members at any time.”
Twice a month, the Culture Department hosts conversational Ute classes. It’s a class where new Ute speakers can learn the language from fluent speakers, often having common discussions in only the language. It’s a good class for speakers of all ages to share an experience.
“There’s a saying that things are lost in translation,” Barry stated. “There are roughly thirty-five Ute language speakers left, and most of them are elders. That’s why it’s important to keep the language going. Picking up a language involves repetition, and that’s really what needs to be understood. We have different classes to provide for our Tribal Members, and we’re always open for more people to attend.”
The Culture Center often receives support from other Ute language speakers, particularly Tom Givon who teaches the Givon Reading & Writing Class. The class is provided for tribal members who wish to learn the language through writing with the aid of phonetic sounds. It involves a dedicated group of learners and speakers who have kept it going for a span of three years.
As the upcoming powwow season comes closer, the classes will soon take a different approach. For the Southern Ute Bear Dance, ribbon shirt and dress classes will be available for women and growler classes for men. Roach headdress classes are also provided along with cradleboard making.
“We have a goal to keep our young people up do date with these traditions,” Barry added. “Making these items that were important to our people is all part of what the [Culture Department] offers. We also provide the materials for these classes so our tribal members don’t have to pay for anything. We want to be sure they’re taken care of when they make these pieces.”
The department offers classes to two groups: adults and elders. Classes for elders commence on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with adult classes continuing at 5 p.m. Additionally, the Culture Center is planning to host beaded moccasin classes to combine with the cradleboard lecture. Tribal members can sign up for any classes at the Southern Ute Cultural Center.
“As a department, we work hard in helping our community,” Barry concluded. “We want to maintain a good relationship with the communities around us. If they want information, we can provide it. We all learn how to sew, make clothing, and at the same time, share things together in our Ute language. It is just a fun way to get our tribal members culturally involved.”