Tales from the Tread: Creating community connections
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
As our country and our world continue to grapple with issues of race and inequality, the world’s museums are joining together to speak out and stand up for social justice. During these turbulent times, museums can guide communities toward insight, truth and justice through an understanding of our past.
The Tread of Pioneers Museum serves as a historical repository, research center, storyteller and place of learning and reflection. We strive to tell the story of our heritage through the voices and perspectives of the people who lived it. It is our honor and duty to serve as a conduit for our history and for Ute Indian cultural appreciation in our community. Through exhibits, research, education and events, the museum creates opportunities to hear from and learn first-hand from local residents, past and present, and from the Ute people themselves — their story, in their words.
To increase awareness and appreciation of Ute Indian history and culture and to connect Ute Indian youth with their ancestral lands and history in Steamboat Springs, the museum started an annual event in 2017 for our community called the “Steamboat Springs/Ute Indian Cultural Exchange.” Students from the Uintah River High School of Fort Duchesne, Utah, perform powwow dances and music and explain the history and meaning of the dances in three presentations at local schools — two for students and one for the public.
During their stay in Steamboat, the Ute students tour the museum and review and provide feedback on the museum’s Ute history exhibits. The group then explores the town and soaks in the local hot springs.
A deeper understanding of our rich heritage and culture, for both Steamboat residents and Ute students, is a valuable opportunity for all. When we better understand our past, are inclusive and welcoming and share our strengths and talents, both communities involved can benefit.
We know that one of our most important roles is to educate our youngest residents about Ute history and how it relates to them. In addition to hosting the powwow events at the local schools, we recently procured special hands-on history educational materials, reviewed thoroughly by the Ute tribe, from History Colorado Center in Denver.
In the highly interactive kit, “Ute Knowledge: Colorado’s Original Scientists,” students investigate how the Ute Indians used science technology, engineering and math to survive and thrive in the Rocky Mountains.
In another kit, “Moving Day: Colorado’s Migration Story,” students explore the movement of people across Colorado from prehistory to 1870. By examining community groups, like the Ancestral Puebloans, Mountain Men, Miners, Utes, Plains Indians and Hispanos, students discover how each group has contributed and influenced life today in Colorado.
The kits are filled with touchable artifacts, photos and information, meet state curriculum standards and can be presented to students by the museum’s educator or checked out by teachers. These kits are offered in addition to other Ute and Native American materials and programming we have always made available to teachers, students and parents.
The Ute Indians are Colorado’s oldest documented inhabitants. They call themselves Nuche meaning “the people.” They believe that in the beginning of time, the Creator placed them in the Rocky Mountains — their ancestral home. Written historical records indicate specific Ute presence in the Yampa Valley since the late 1500s, though linguistic evidence indicates the 1300s.
The Ute tribe of the Yampa Valley and Steamboat Springs was the “Yampatika” or “Yamparica” band. “Yampa” means “root” and “tika” means “to eat.” The Utes spent the summers hunting game, gathering food and soaking in the curative waters of the local mineral springs. Come winter, they left the Yampa Valley, following their food sources to lower elevations and milder climates.
Early diaries and recollections from the first settlers to the area, the Crawfords, depict nearly 100 members of the Yampatika tribe in the Yampa Valley. Though whites and Utes generally kept to themselves, written accounts by the Crawford family describe the Utes as friendly and nonconfrontational.
However, as more settlers arrived and demands on the land increased, conflicts arose. The Ute tribes of Colorado were forcibly removed by the U.S. government to reservations in the early 1880s. Today, there are three separate Ute reservations throughout Colorado and Utah — the Uintah-Ouray, the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute reservations.
We invite you and your family to learn more about our local history. As we all work together to create a more just, verdant and peaceful world, the Tread of Pioneers Museum will support these efforts through cultural understanding and appreciation.
Candice Bannister is the executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
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