UP BEAR CREEK | Ute Elder to Speak at Library on June 27

06/25/14 | By | More

UTE APOLOGY … It’s been a long time coming. About 133 years to be exact. But finally an arm of Colorado State (San Miguel County) has offered a formal government-to-government apology to the Uncompahgre Band of the Utes (now a part of the Northern Ute Tribe in Utah) for their forced removal from county boundaries in 1881. At that time, San Miguel was part of Ouray County. Once the Utes were removed by U.S. soldiers, the land rush was on in Western Colorado, and San Miguel County broke off from Ouray County the following year … Roland McCook, a Ute elder living in Montrose, has been working with me on the apology wording and timing. He has offered to speak to the Telluride community to explain to them what happened to his ancestors and how and why they were moved from their ancestral homelands. His talk will give the background for the wording of the county resolution and what this initial apology means … The hope is that if the Northern Ute Tribal Council (known as the “business committee”) will accept the apology, we can dedicate a plaque in the Placerville Park remembering the Ute occupation and forced removal from county boundaries. Chief Ouray and Chipeta are recorded as camping at the warm springs across the river from downtown Placerville, and so it seemed a fitting spot to commemorate the first formal apology offered government-to-government to the Uncompahgre Utes … As Native American lawyer, tribal judge, author, activist and law professor Walter Echo-Hawk (Pawnee) explained at a conference I attended at the University of Colorado’s Center of the American West in Boulder a couple years back, the process of reconciliation after genocide consists of five parts – the triggering incident, an apology from those responsible, an acceptance of the apology by those injured, restitution for what was taken, and eventually reconciliation. So, an apology from the local government with jurisdiction over the area where the Uncompahgre Utes were removed (in this case, San Miguel County) is being made to the Northern Utes (Utah), where the Uncompahgre band was forced to relocate. It will be up to the Northern Ute leaders to decide if they want to accept this apology, or if it is a case of too little too late … Certainly, as a government leader, I have no illusions that this apology rights any of the many wrongs carried out against the Ute people. But it does, however belatedly, begin the process of reconciliation that has never taken place in Colorado, or anywhere in this country. I believe as many Native Americans do, that we as a nation need to recognize the genocidal seizure of Indian lands by the colonial immigration of European settlers and to make amends … American Indian law in the U.S. is built on the principle of conquest. They lost, we won. So the winners get to set the terms and legal implications of everything to do in Indian Country … But Echo-Hawk argues in his new book, In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America & the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Fulcrum Publishers, 2013) that America needs to come out of the colonial closet and own up to a 21st Century revision of American Indian Law based on the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and not on conquest’s winner-take-all principles. And the hope is that the apology will be a stepping-stone to raising this lingering issue at the very roots of who we are in the world … At the very least, come hear more of our shared history as natives and settlers from Roland McCook this Friday at 4 p.m. in the Wilkinson.

HELP NEEDED … A number of you have called or talked to me about helping this process of reconciliation along. I know some of you I never was able to get back to you. But attending this first event will be a critical part of continuing this reconciliation process, which has only begun and is nowhere near a just solution. So, please get folks to attend and help demonstrate that this community is serious about getting us on the long road to reconciliation.

LOWER BEAVER TO THE LEDGES … The BLM river ranger oared doubletime into an eddy as we rounded a bend deep in the San Miguel Cañon. A highwater logjam had dammed the other channel of the fast-moving river. If the paddle boat behind us got pulled in, it could be trouble. “I’ll get the rope,” said Ryan, as he dropped the oars and headed for the top of the pile of flotsam, driftwood and muddy debris. Our BLM-led group hadn’t expected trouble, but they were prepared. If the paddle boat of Montrose County staffers and my colleague Joan May took the wrong channel round this particular island, they were going to have to stop before the “strainer” – as they call most river runners’ obstructions – caught them up and tried to pull them under. However, Blair, their BLM river runner, skillfully guided the paddle boat down the same channel as our oar raft and the kayak … It was wonderful exploring one of the proposed wild and scenic sections of the San Miguel with a crew of dedicated agency on-the-grounders. Big thanks.

AAMA HARWOOD … The daughter of Mysto the Magi (who, as Mitch Harwood, got married in this very town some 20-plus years ago) will be the featured poet for Talking Gourds Poetry Club, which is pushing back the clock to 8 p.m. for its monthly first Tuesday meetings at Arroyo’s in July and August. Come join us July 1. Bring a poem to read on the topic of a “Meridian.”




-for Sara


Twenty-five years later

still dazzling, in or out

of her clothes



-Steve Sanfield

from The Perfect Breeze (2010)


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Category: Commentary, Opinion, Up Bear Creek

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