In recognition of Leonard C. Burch 

The Burch sisters: Leona, Lynette and Leora lead their mother Irene Burch and fellow Leonard C. Burch memorial walk participants during last year’s annual event held at the SunUte Community Center on Dec. 10, 2019.
Leonard C. Burch Day, December 10, honors Leonard C. Burch, 1933-2003, Former Chairman, Council Member, Sun Dance Chief and visionary of the Southern Ute Tribe.
Southern Ute Chairman, and Navy veteran, Leonard C. Burch leads the Walk of the Warriors procession from the Veterans Park to the Bear Dance bridge, and then onto the Ouray Memorial Cemetery during the annual Memorial Day ceremonies.
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
SU Drum Archives
SU Drum Archives

Leonard C. Burch Day — this day of recognition was first established on Dec. 10, 1996 by the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council and is celebrated as a tribal holiday — every December.  

Burch was known for his strong cultural ties to his Ute traditionshis visionary leadership in his role as the Tribe’s longtime chairman and unparalleled dedication to family, community and the many friendships he cultivated along the way.  

The Burch family introduced the annual Leonard C. Burch Walk/Run in 2011 in an effort to bring the community together, educate and recognize the accomplishments of the late Chairman Burch. He is survived by his wife Irene Burch and seven daughters, who come together each year as a family to organize the walk in honor of their father.  

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Tribe’s Stay at Home order, it was deemed necessary to cancel this year’s event, which was set to take place over the Leonard C. Burch holiday weekend 

We are on a Stay at Home order put in place by the Southern Ute Tribe and we need to keep everyone safe at this moment in time,” Leonora Burch explained. “Hopefully next year will be a bigger and better year!”  

According to a statement published by the Burch family, “Mr. Leonard C. Burch served was elected to the Southern Ute Tribal Council at the young age of 32 in 1966 and served for Chairman for 28 years. Under his leadership, the Southern Ute Tribe emerged from relative poverty to become a major economic force in the Four Corners region and the largest employer in LaPlata County. Fueled principally by successful development of the Tribe’s natural gas resources, the Burch era saw countless examples of community development and improvements in education and health and social programs available to tribal members. 

 These are just a few of Mr. Burch’s outstanding achievements: 

  • Mr. Burch was invited by five separate United States Presidents to attend conferences on Indian policy at the White House. 
  • During his tenure he appeared innumerable times before Committees of Congress on matters affecting the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Southwestern Colorado. 
  • He successfully obtained passage of federal laws permitting the Tribe to consolidate land holdings within the reservation and address complex jurisdictional issues. The gaming compact between the State of Colorado and the Tribe and a taxation compact among the State of Colorado, the County of LaPlata and the Tribe were each negotiated during his tenure in office. 
  • In the later years of his career, he worked closely with other members of the Tribal Council to establish and implement successful financial investments both on and off the reservation. The financial progress of the Tribe has been widely touted as a model for Indian tribes throughout the country. 
  • He helped forge a coalition of Indian and non-Indian water users in southwestern Colorado to advocate for construction of the Animas-LaPlata Project, a water storage facility built by the Bureau of Reclamation as part of a settlement of the Tribe’s water rights claims. In recognition of his role in this regard, he received the Citizens Award from the United States Bureau of Reclamation. 
  • As an Air Force Veteran, Mr. Leonard Burch was honored to lead the Walk of Warriors every Memorial Day. 
  • He received numerous awards in recognition of his lifetime achievements and contributions, including: 
  • The Durango Area Citizen of the Year Award (1997) 
  • The 15th Annual Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award (2002) 
  • The Council of Energy Resource Tribe’s Achievement Award (2002). 

 Throughout his life, Mr. Burch remained respectful of the culture and traditional ways of the Ute people,” his family stated. He participated continuously in the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s Sundance as both a dancer and Sundance Chief and he supported programs to preserve the Ute language and the Tribe’s museum. 

Leonard C. Burch retired from his remarkable political career at the end of 2002; he passed on in August the following year. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe dedicated the newly built Tribal Administration Building in his name soon after. Inscribing a set of bronze plaques with the inscription, “In memory of Leonard C. Burch, 1933-2003, Former Chairman, Council Member, Sun Dance Chief and Great Visionary — Thank you for your leadership, dedication and tireless efforts on behalf of your people.”  






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