Four Corners conference for Indian Country

United States Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt provides opening remarks at the Sky Ute Event’s Center on Tuesday, Sept. 24 for the annual Four Corners Indian Country Conference.
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum

The 27th Annual Four Corners Indian Country Conference returned to the Southern Ute Reservation to provide an action packed and content rich agenda through Monday, Sept. 23 – Wednesday, Sept. 25. The conference was hosted in the Sky Ute Casino Resort Event Center and was sponsored by the United States Attorney’s Offices for the Districts of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. This is the Southern Ute Tribes first time hosting the conference since 2014.

Southern Ute Chairman, Christine Sage welcomes the lawyers, officers and community members to the 27th annual Four Corners Indian Country Conference at the Sky Ute Casino Resort Event Center on Monday, Sept. 23.

For the past three decades: lawyers, police officers, advocates and tribal leaders from across Indian Country have attended the conference to advance and gain new ways of helping aide victims of violent crime. The conference reached peak attendance at approximately 300 people. Each breakout sessions focused on varying levels of crime and victims in Indian Country. Everything from sex trafficking to sexual assault, and the lasting impacts these have on communities and individuals were discussed. The role of law enforcement and first responders in these crimes was also a topic of conversation.

This conference has created a forum that addresses the needs of victims of crime in Indian Country and has helped tribal communities to collaborate with a range of law enforcement and victim assistance professionals directly. Sparking an improvement to public safety and a better working relationship with all levels of federal, tribal, state and local law enforcement in the Southwest.

Southern Ute’s very own Police Department Chief, Ray Coriz was invited to present on Tuesday, Sept. 24. Coriz’s presentation focused on the roles that tribal law enforcement and first responders follow when supporting a victim. “Law enforcement is often the first point of contact to offer compassion and resources for victims after a crime occurs—they [responders] are there to help by being a source of information and a link to resources,” Coriz stated.

In addition to these important topics, the United States Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt was invited to be the conference’s keynote speaker and highlighted the Missing and Murdered American Indian and Alaska Native epidemic in his speech. He expressed the department’s dedication to solving “cold cases” and providing updated trainings for Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) officers. “We are committed to upholding our responsibilities to Indian Country” Bernhardt stated.

The Department of Interior has prioritized and upholds the trust responsibilities of fostering government-to-government relationships in both the federal government and with 567 federally recognized tribes. According to the department’s website they are “committed to tribal prosperity and to helping address challenges in the areas of economic development, education and law enforcement.”

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt sits down with local newspapers to answer questions and explain parts of his keynote speech that he gave at the annual Four Corners Indian Country Conference on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at the Sky Ute Casino Resort Event Center.

In his Keynote speech, Bernhardt mentioned the work that the BIA is currently doing by prioritizing violent crimes, creating new drug task forces and the re-opening of cold cases—emphasizing those of missing and murdered indigenous peoples. “We will continue our efforts to combat narcotics and trafficking, but we cannot do it alone—we must continue to work closely with other federal partners,” Bernhardt stated.

Southern Ute Victim Services Coordinator, Lisa Manzanares was instrumental in working with the U.S. Attorney’s office for Colorado to get the conference hosted in Ignacio, Colo. on the Southern Ute Reservation. She and her staff worked together to set up local organizations and leaders to present at the conference. “I felt like we needed to bring this conference here [Southern Ute Reservation] to provide opportunities to local law enforcement, tribal leaders and the community,” Manzanares stated. “The conference has been really good, we have had a high turnout and the information seems to be well received.”

The Southwest Rainbow Youth (SWRY), an Ignacio based LGBTQ+ youth initiative provided a seminar at the conference on “Bringing Awareness and Support to LGBTQ+ Youth, Their Families and Allies”. The presentation focused on ways tribal communities, law enforcement, advocates and prosecutors can better serve the LGBTQ+ populations who fall victim to violent crime. In their presentation, SWRY founders explained that they are “dedicated to serving the LGBTQ+ youth in Southwest Colorado and strive to exist as a clearinghouse for resources that can support, assist, educate and advocate for the LGBTQ+ populations, their families and loved ones.”

Angelo Frost and Timothy Paiz of Kwanachįwhsiavį (Eagle Wing) drum group attend the opening ceremonies of the 27th annual Four Corners Indian Country Conference. The singers gave an honor song and flag song on Monday, Sept. 23 at the Sky Ute Casino Resort.

As the conference came to a close, United States Attorney for the District of Colorado, Jason Dunn spoke one last time. “I would like to thank the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute tribe for their support and assistance,” Dunn stated. “I hope you all find these sessions as informative and useful as I do—to rededicate ourselves to this important work on behalf of all Native Americans in the Four Corners region and beyond.


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