Our view: Reconnecting with the original “locals”

At issue: The Ute Indian performances on Thursday in Steamboat acknowledged the native peoples who were here for centuries before us.

Our view: It’s about time Steamboat Springs and Routt County send a cultural exchange to the Ute Reservation in Northern Utah.

This week’s visit by young dancers from Fort Duchesne, Utah, the second in two years, represented a valuable cultural exchange between the modern Ute people and the current residents of Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley.

It has always felt awkward to us that we don’t interact more than we typically do with the native people who maintained stewardship of this landscape for centuries.

If it weren’t for the Tread of Pioneers Museum, which hosted this week’s event, and its executive director Candice Bannister, we might not ever interact with the Utes and experience their cultural heritage.

Bannister has been consistently reaching out to the Utes for many years, hosting tribal elders like Roland McCook Sr., great-great grandson of Chipeta, the wife of Chief Ouray and Clifford Duncan.

She described the importance she attaches to keeping contacts between the Northern Utes and the people of Routt County alive, in a “Tales from the Tread” column published in Steamboat Pilot & Today in May 2016.

“One of the museum’s key roles is to educate about Ute heritage so it is not forgotten,” Bannister wrote. “The Utes are our ancestors and boast a long, rich history that precedes the pioneers or any modern settlement.  It is the museum’s duty and privilege to create connections and understanding between the Utes and our local community.”

That same month, McCook made it plain that he travels across the Western Slope for speaking engagements to preserve his people’s history in the region.

“My sole purpose is to research the strong ties our people had with Colorado,” McCook said. “I will not allow the Utes to fade away into the past and be forgotten.”

McCook and Duncan always managed, during their speaking engagements here, to share what was in their hearts, without putting their Steamboat audiences on the defensive.

The Utes, who historically summered in the upper Yampa Valley, shared a friendship with the early settlers — their children were playmates with the Crawford children who were members of the first permanent European family residing in what is now Steamboat Springs.

But they have essentially been gone from Western Colorado since 1881, when the European settlers on Colorado’s Front Range determined that the Utes had to go because they were impeding development of mining and other forms of commerce in the Rocky Mountains.

According to their website, the Utes have a tribal membership of about 2,970 and more than half of their members live on the reservations where the tribe oversees approximately 1.3 million acres of trust land. They operate businesses including a super market, gas stations, bowling alley, Uinta River Technologies and Ute Tribal Enterprises LLC. Cattle and oil and natural gas extraction also represent big business on the reservation.

During another speaking engagement here, Cook said he was not inclined to bemoan the relatively poor quality of the land his people have worked in Utah for so many years.

“My heart could be angry,” he said. “I could stand here and give you a different idea and tell you how I really feel. But what would be the point of doing that?”

A question for modern day Steamboat Springs might be, “When will we pay a cultural visit to the Ute Indian Tribe?”

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