A Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA) meeting was held in Towaoc, Colo. on Friday, May 29 at the Ute Mountain Ute Casino in light of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s annual Bear Dance. In addition to the festivities, the topics of water rights, mascot controversies, and youth education were among the discussions. Council members, Clement J. Frost, Melvin J. Baker, and Amy J. Barry represented the Southern Ute Indian Tribe along with young leaders from the Sunshine Cloud Smith Youth Advisory Council.
“We’re hoping there will be more dialogue surrounding these addressed issues,” stated Lieutenant Governor of Colorado, Joseph A. Garcia. “There are plenty of opportunities for the tribal representatives to voice their concerns, and this is why we are here today.”
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has recently seen issues with water irrigation across the land, particularly with breached waterlines and lack of personnel/equipment. The tribe has been aiming on finding a solution with the aid of Colorado representatives.
“Our water is important to the people, land, and animals,” Frost said. “We’re one month behind with our irrigation while other farmers around the area are already in production. Without water, we really suffer – not only on farmland, but also providing to our horses and cattle.”
“Over time, the soils have eroded the waterlines, and we want to find a way to improve that,” added Manuel Heart, Ute Mountain Ute Chairman. “Back in March we had three water breaks, and each time it cost our tribe [a substantial amount of money]. Let’s hope that we can create a partnership and make up some of that money to replace the line. Colorado has lead the relationship between the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian Tribe – we’re all related and we share these adventures together.”
The controversial topic of Native American mascots was also a heavy subject at the CCIA meeting. Frost addressed his concern on the issue with hopes of shedding light on changing the team mascots.
“These mascots relate to NAGPRA. Everything from tomahawks to war bonnets, they are seen as funerary objects. Bonnets are a symbol of honor, and those who wear it are the ones who earned it,” Frost said. “It’s important they’re not used in a way that’s deemed inappropriate. We’re not just talking about mascot names, but also the things that are used in abusive ways associated with the [Native American] tradition.”
The meeting was taken to the Ute Mountain Ute Bear Dance corral where Colorado state representatives were given the leisure of experiencing their first Bear Dance. The festivities were in full delight as tribal dancers welcomed the representatives with open arms and demonstrated the traditional Bear Dance routine.
The Sunshine Cloud Smith Youth Advisory Council represented the Southern Ute Indian Tribe on the topic of education. The teachings of cultural heritage have always been a main goal for the tribe, and this meeting was no different. Tribal Council Lady, Amy J. Barry, gave an update on the youth’s education.
“We have quite a few items on the table for our youth. They will be participating in the Tri-Ute games in Fort Duchesne, and we also received word that they will be going to the Youth Leadership Conference in Washington D.C. this coming July. It’s really rewarding for them to have this opportunity. As the year goes on, we want to hold focus groups with our youth. We want to instill them the importance of our land, our people. They’re becoming great ambassadors for their peers and community.”
“I know that many times we speak in regards to education, sometimes we forget to look back and reflect on what we can really do to help,” stated Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, Ute Mountain Ute council member. “We’re really encouraging our students and providing as many resources as we can for them. When you think about opportunities, you have to really think outside the box, outside the boundaries of our reservations. We need to open up those opportunities and establish them with our youth. It’s good that we as tribal people have a good relationship with our agencies.”