Project updates from Cultural Preservation Department, Tribal Historic Preservation Office 

The Tribe’s Cultural Preservation Department, Native American Graves & Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) staff will assume the responsibility of review pursuant to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act upon completion of the development of its Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO). Pictured left to right: NAGPRA Tech Xavier Watts, NAGPRA Coordinators Cassandra Atencio and Garrett Briggs.
Lindsay Box | Council Affairs

The COVID-19 pandemic may have slowed down certain areas of society, but did not reduce the workload for the NAGPRA Office, now the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO). Since Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council issued the work at home order, the THPO staff worked tirelessly to review proposed projects and maintain their involvement in on-going projects remotely. The sections below are updates to previously written articles published in The Southern Ute Drum newspaper.   

Establishment of the Teller Institute Task Force  

Tribal Council and THPO co-wrote a letter inviting Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) to present at the December 2020 Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA) meeting about the State’s intent to sell the old Grand Junction Indian School campus (GJIS). Today, the land is home to the Grand Junction Regional Center (GJRC), which is operated by CDHS. CDHS, also referred to as the Teller Institute, provides services and housing at GJRC to people with emotional, intellectual, and physical limitations.   

The invitation to CDHS emphasized the urgency to locate GJIS’s student cemetery prior to CDHS selling the land. In the letter, Tribal Council emphasized their belief that “GJRC’s campus history was not adequately considered [by elected state officials] during the drafting and passage of Senate Bill 16-178 and House Bill 19-1062.” Both Bills detail the State’s intent to vacate and sell the land. THPO tried to initiate a conversation with the State to no avail. Therefore, THPO sought Tribal Council’s involvement to bring the matter to CCIA’s attention.   

Ms. Barnes’s presentation was the first time that CHDS officially informed CCIA about the State’s intent to vacate and sell GJRC. CDHS acknowledged the history of the property and the need to evaluate the campus to locate the student cemetery—where 21 indigenous children died while attending GJIS between 1886 and 1911. The location of the student cemetery has been lost due to inaccurate record keeping and the mismanagement of historic documents.   

CCIA requested the development of a workgroup to ensure that a timely evaluation of the property and consultation with descendant indigenous communities occurs. In January, the Teller Task Force was created. On February 5, Tribal Council nominated Garrett Briggs as the Southern Ute representative. According to Briggs, “this has been a long time coming. As a result of the relentless efforts and advocacy by the THPO, I am honored to serve in this capacity. I will do my best to ensure every feasible option is exhausted to relocate the student cemetery and that these children are treated with the respect and the dignity they deserve.”  

Briggs is responsible for providing Tribal Council with updates and request guidance as the project moves forward. Currently, the Teller Task Force is postponing meetings to evaluate proposals of a third-party contractor to assist in the facilitation of consultation. Task Force meetings will likely resume in November. The original article, Project seeks to identify Indian students who perished while attending Grand Junction Indian Boarding School, was published February 15, 2019.  

Bonita Peaks Ethnographic-Ethnobotanical Project 

The Environmental Protection Agency initiated consultation with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe about the Gold King Mine spill in 2015. In fall of 2018, the Environmental Programs Division (EPD) and THPO began to evaluate the extent of impacts to cultural resources within the Brunot Area. Based upon their recommendations, Tribal Council requested funding from the EPA to conduct an ethnographic and ethnobotanical study. Out of three respondents, the Tribe contracted Anthropological Research, LLC in winter 2019. Anthropological, LLC was selected due to their expertise, experience working with tribal communities, and their overall ability to fulfill the needs of the study.  

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Ute Indian Tribe were invited to participate. Based upon tribal consultation, the project was divided into two field seasons. The Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Tribes participated in the 2019 field work, while the Ute Indian Tribe was scheduled to participate in 2020. The Ute Indian Tribe tribal members were unable to participate due to COVID; however, Betsy Chapoose, Cultural Rights and Protection Director for Ute Indian Tribe, provided information and feedback for the report via remote meetings with the other tribes and Anthropological Research, LLC.   

Ute tribal members involved in this project included: Alden Naranjo, Jr., Terry Knight, Erwin Taylor, Arlene A. Millich, Ernest Pinnecoose, Elise Redd, Hanley Frost, Sr., Linda Baker, Cassandra Atencio, Edward B. Box, III., Garrett Briggs, Micha Odoms, Xavier Watts, Moav Berry, Emily Whiteman, Alfred Wall, Jr., Laverne Summa, Helen Munoz, Kathryn Jacket, Mark Wing, and Betsy Chapoose.        

The final ethnography and ethnobotany report was submitted in April. The purpose of this report was to record Ute traditional knowledge associated with this portion of Ute ancestral lands. The recordation of the traditional knowledge included oral history, the identification of traditional plants, locations of use areas, as well as Ute and American modern history. The ethnography and ethnobotany report set the stage for the second part of the project—plant collection and toxicology assessment, which will begin in Spring 2022. 

Head Start Building Project 

THPO involvement in Head Start School Building (HSSB) Project began in February of 2018. Tribal Council issued several directives to the THPO Office and EPD. First, the THPO was tasked with distributing a survey to the Southern Ute tribal membership regarding the future of the HSSB. Second, the THPO and EPD were tasked to collectively draft, publish, and contact an architectural preservation firm to digitally and physically document the HSSB, Dining Hall, and Girl’s Dormitory (the Annex), as all as all the murals on main campus.  

May and Burch Conservation were awarded and fulfilled their contact in August 2020. The recordation of these historic structures and murals from the Indian Boarding School era were funded through EPD’s Air Penalty Fund. The May and Burch Conservation team captured high-quality photographs of all artwork using Photogrammetry, examined the murals using a 50 to 200X magnification, and collected paint samples to evaluate the murals current conditions.  

AQYER was subcontracted by May and Burch Conservation to perform a 3D laser scans of all three buildings inside and out. The scans precisely recorded and resulted in the creation of a database about their form, which provides an accurate record of all structural surfaces that can be used in many ways, including the creation of a ‘virtual tour’ of the building. All information was collected for preservation purposes, pending Tribal Council’s future determination about the fate of the HSSB.  

Per the directive of Tribal Council, three tribal membership surveys were issued between 2018 and 2021. The third and final survey requested from Tribal Council occurred in July. The combined survey results indicated that 70% (96) support the preservation and rehabilitation of the HSSB, while 30% (41) voted for demolition. Those in favor of preservation and rehabilitation recommended that the HSSB be repurposed for the Boys & Girls Club, Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Central Archival Repository, or be used as a living museum, among other ideas.  

In 2021, EPD contracted Acumen Environmental to execute a Tribal Council directive to abate and mitigate hazardous materials from the HSSB. On August 23, May and Burch Conservation was hired to construct a protective barrier around the Ute life scene in the gymnasium. On September 8, Acumen Environmental began abatement and mitigation work, which is anticipated to last until February 11, 2022.  

Rocky Mountain Industry: Proposed Limestone Quarry Expansion 

Rocky Mountain Industry (RMI) submitted a proposal to Bureau of Land Management Colorado River Valley Field Office (BLM CRVFO) to expand a preexisting limestone quarry near Glenwood Springs, Colo. in the Spring 2018. The THPO was initially informed about RMI’s proposal by longstanding colleagues who have worked with Ute cultural preservation representatives for over three decades. The THPO accepted BLM CRVFO’s invitation to consult in the Fall of 2018.  

The THPO received their most recent update from BLM CRVFO on November 2. Currently, the project is on hold. The Determination of Common Variety or mineral examination is ongoing. Upon completion, the hydrological baseline study will begin, which will require the drilling and monitoring of wells to inform additional environmental analyses of potential impacts to surrounding water sources. Once both studies are completed, the THPO will request an ethnographic study to ensure that Tribal interests continue to be considered at every level of planning. 

Fishers Peak 

The opportunity to consult on the development of management plans for Fishers Peak is a pivotal moment in cultural preservation for the Tribe. State projects do not always require stakeholder involvement, such as tribes, to develop management plans that address their interests and concerns. Knowing this, the THPO submitted a letter to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) requesting involvement by way of Tribal Council via the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs in Winter 2020. 

The THPO is currently consulting on the project and reviewing the results of cultural surveys to ensure that the Tribe’s concerns are taken into consideration at every level of planning. CPW is consulting with several tribes, including ours, to develop management plans that avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects to or the destruction of cultural resources. These discussions guide where recreation can occur. During the month of November, meetings and site visits will occur at Fishers Peak.   

If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or would like to assist in the Bonita Peaks Project, please call Garrett W. Briggs, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, at 970-563-2257 or email at, or Cassandra Atencio, Deputy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer at 970-2989 or email at 

Hyperlinks and Article Citations:

The Southern Ute Drum | Project seeks to identify Indian students who perished while attending Grand Junction Indian Boarding School ( 

* Update for Project seeks to identify Indian students who perished, Southern Ute Drum, February 2019, Vol. LI, No.4 

The Southern Ute Drum | Ethnographic field study brings Ute tribes together in San Juans ( 

*Update for Ethnographic field study brings Ute tribes together in San Juans, Southern Ute Drum, September 2019, Vol. LI, No. 19  

The Southern Ute Drum | What about the Head Start building? ( 

*Update for What about the Head Start School Building? Southern Ute Drum, March 2020, Vol. LII, No.6  

The Southern Ute Drum | EPD hires conservationists to document, assess historic Sam Ray murals (  

*Update for EPD hires conservationists to document, access historic Sam Ray murals, August 2020, Vol. LII, No. 18 

The Southern Ute Drum | Protecting the hot springs and vapor caves in Glenwood Springs ( 

*Update for Protecting the hot springs and vapor caves in Glenwood Springs, September 2020, Vol. LII, No. 19 

The Southern Ute Drum | NAGPRA seeks Tribal voice in development of Colorado’s newest State Park (  

*Update for NAGPRA seeks Tribal voice in development of newest State Park, Vol. LII, No. 24 

The Southern Ute Drum | NAGPRA seeks Tribal voice in development of Colorado’s newest State Park (  

*Update for NAGPRA seeks Tribal voice in development of newest State Park, Vol. LII, No. 24 

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