Southern Ute Chairman Leonard C. Burch holds the plaque and certificate he was awarded – the Durango Community Citizen Award in 1997. Burch also received the 15th Annual Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award (2000) and the Council of Energy Resource Tribes’ Achievement Award (2002).
Proclamation for Leonard C. Burch Day, Dec. 10, 2020 in La Plata County
Leonard C. Burch and his wife Irene, with one of his 14 grandchildren enjoy one of many meals together.
Photo Credit: SU Drum archive
Photo Credit: Robert L. Ortiz | The Southern Ute Drum
Photo Credit: SU Drum archive
Photo Credit: SU Drum archive
Photo Credit: Robert L. Ortiz | The Southern Ute Drum
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La Plata County joins Tribe in recognizing Leonard C. Burch Day — December, 10

The La Plata County Commissioners met on Tuesday, Dec. 8 to hear a proposal brought forth by County Commissioner Julie Westendorff to recognize Dec. 10, as Leonard C. Burch Day throughout La Plata County.

Westendorff set the mood of the virtual Zoom meeting by naming the various endeavors and accomplishments of Leonard C. Burch, not only as Chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, but as a community member and resident of La Plata County.

The La Plata Board of Commissioners approved the proclamation to recognize Dec. 10, 2020 and subsequence years as Leonard C. Burch Day. (See proclamation below)

The family of Mr. Burch were present to hear the words by Westendorff and the Southern Ute Tribal Council members who attended the meeting, where they recounted various memories of the late Mr. Burch and their time working with him.

Daughters of Mr. Burch: Lisa Burch, Leona Burch, Leonora Burch, Lena Gallegos, Lynette Sage and Granddaughter Rachael Burch were present alongside their mother, wife of the late Chairman, Irene Burch in their family home.

Southern Ute Tribal Council members, Marge Barry, Ramona Eagle, newly appointed Chairman, Bruce Valdez and recent elected Council member Vanessa Torres were also present in the Zoom meeting.

Westendorff spoke of Mr. Burch and his 32 years as a leader of the Southern Ute Tribe. She spoke of his influence in the State of Colorado and across the country.

Westendorff spoke of his leadership, “he was not only important to the Southern Ute Tribe and Native people, but to all Americans, that reached beyond his time as elected by the Southern Ute tribal people.”

Westendorff spoke of Leonard. Burch’s strong sense of substance, his humbleness and dignified presence to secure the well-being and represent the Southern Ute Tribe. As chairman, Mr. Burch oversaw the economic success of the Tribe, not only in La Plata County, but nationally, “he made great strides in sovereignty — participating in conferences at the White House,” said Westendorff.

Southern Ute Tribal Councilmember Marge Barry spoke of the honor she had to work alongside Mr. Burch many years ago. How she was impressed and honored by him. Barry also spoke of his dedication to traditional values. “He was a Sun Dancer, and a Sun Dance Chief. He was also a veteran.”

Mr. Burch is a U.S. Air Force veteran and served four tours of duty in Turkey in the late 1950’s.

Recently appointed Chairman, Bruce Valdez thanked the Commissioners. “It is an honor and a privilege to speak here today.” Valdez said.

Valdez thanked the family for allowing Mr. Burch to share his time and his vision with the Tribe.

Councilmember Ramona Eagle, spoke of her first meeting with Mr. Burch while employed in the Summer Youth Employment program, and first working with Mr. Burch and Vida Peabody, who served as Council Secretary at that time.

Eagle also spoke of the sacrifice Mr. Burch’s family made over the years; Leonard Burch worked tirelessly in his accomplishments for the Tribe.

“Seeing his accomplishments for the Tribe, his importance as a person, a visionary in place as a leader,” said Eagle.

She also thanked the County Commissioners for sharing this day [Dec. 10] with the Southern Ute Tribe.

Recently elected Councilmember Vanessa Torres thanked the Burch family and thanked the County Commissioners for recognizing Leonard C. Burch. She spoke of his many accomplishments including Gaming Compact, taxation, the Animas La Plata Water Project and the many investments for the Tribe’s future.

“Mr. Burch supported the Ute culture and language and the care of his people,” Torres said, speaking of his traditional values and as a Sun Dancer.

Torres closed by recognizing his accomplishments for the Tribe with the support of his wife Irene.

The first of Burch’s daughters to speak, Lynette Sage said of her father, “his legacy is far reaching, he was working to better the lives of his people. He would say, ‘I won’t be here though to see these things.’”

“His dreams and how far they reached, for his people to be honored in this way. He was a wonderful human being, husband, father and uncle.” Sage said.

Daughter Lisa Burch said, “We’re all here with mom [Irene] at the family house. We are all thankful for this day.” Lisa Burch had been working with Westendorff via email in setting up the meeting with the County Commissioners. Lisa announced it had been 17 years since her father’s passing. He was a visionary for his Tribe, the employees, and his early work with the Growth Fund.

She thanked the Commissioners as well, for honoring her father on Dec. 10, “we honor our father every day.” Lisa has hopes that the Tribe honors Mr. Burch in a good way this year, as the annual activities and events the Tribe normally hosts have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The annual events include a community memorial walk/run and an Art & Literacy Contest for area students honoring Leonard C. Burch.

Lisa also thanked past council for their dedication to the Tribe and thanked former Chairman Christine Sage for keeping the Tribe safe during her term, stating that the family appreciates the Southern Ute Tribal Council and La Plata County Commissioners.

Eldest daughter, Leonora Burch thanked all who participated and thanked all those who backed her Father, Mr. Burch. Leonora shared fond memories of her father.

“We have to keep the ball rolling; rolling for our people, for our tribe,” Leonora said of her father, remembering the respect her father garnered as he walked into a room for a meeting.“He was always reading other Tribe’s newspapers across Indian Country, always interested in Native people, to see how he could continue to be a leader in his tribe,” Leonora said.

La Plata County Commissioner Board President, Gwen Lachelt said, “this is a very special day, we are leaving a legacy, we are establishing Leonard C. Burch Day.”

County Commissioner board member, Clyde Church said, “hearing the words spoken today speak to the wisdom of Leonard Burch. I hope to continue the warm working relationship with the Tribe.”

Westendorff shared, “being an elected official, I recognize the sacrifices the family made.” Thanking Mrs. Burch and the family for sharing their father.

High School sweetheart and wife of the late Leonard C. Burch, Irene Burch closed the meeting telling all present, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” while waving to the camera.

Irene and Leonard have seven daughters and 14 grandchildren. Aside from his role as a leader of the Southern Ute, Mr. Burch focused on family values and spending quality time with his wife, daughters and grandchildren.

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