Southern Ute


1. Historical information about the culture

The Ute people are the oldest residents of Colorado. Not only do the inhabit Colorado but also Utah, Wyoming, Eastern Nevada, Northern New Mexico and Arizona. The Utes speak Shoshonean, which is a dialect of Uto-Aztecan language. The name of the state of Utah was derived from the name Ute. The word Ute means, "Land of the sun" in their language. The Utes were never a unified group within historic times; instead, they consisted of numerous nomadic bands that maintained close associations with other neighboring groups. The Utes settled around the lake areas of Utah.
As the Utes traveled the vast area of the Great Basin, large bands would breakup into smaller family units that were much more mobile.  Camps could be broken down faster making travel from one location to another a more efficient process.  Because food gathering was an immense task, the people learned that by alternating hunting and food gathering sites the environment would have time to replenish. 
In early spring and into the late fall, men would hunt for large game such as elk, deer, and antelope; the women would trap smaller game animals in addition to gathering wild plants such as berries and fruits.  Wild plants such as the amaranth, wild onion, rice grass, and dandelion supplemented their diet. Before they acquired the horse, the Utes used basic tools and weapons which were made of stone and wood.  These tools included digging sticks, weed beaters, baskets, bows and arrows, flint knives, arrowheads, throwing sticks, matates and manos for food preparation.  They became very skilled at basket weaving, making coiled containers sealed with pitch for water storage.  As expert hunters they used all parts of the animal.  Elk and deer hides were used for shelter covers, clothing and moccasins.  The hides the Utes tanned were prized and a sought after trade item.  The Ute women became known for their beautiful quillwork, which decorated their buckskin dresses, leggings, moccasins, and cradleboards.
Late in the fall, family units would begin to move out of the mountains into sheltered areas for the cold winter.  Generally, the family units of a particular Ute band would live close together.  The family units could acquire more fuel for heating and cooking.  The increased family units would also allow for a better line of defense form enemy tribes seeking supplies for the harsh winter weather. 
            A primary event that marked the beginning of spring was the annual Bear Dance.  The Bear Dance is still considered a time of rejuvenation by the tribe.  It is in essence, the Tribes’ New Year, when Mother Earth begins a new cycle; plants begin to blossom, animals come out of their dens after a long cold winter.
The Bear awakens from his winter’s sleep and celebrates by dancing to welcome the spring.  This dance was given to the Ute people by the bear.  The Bear Dance is the most ancient dance of the Ute people and continues to be observed by all Ute bands.  When many of the various bands gathered for the Bear Dance it allowed relatives to socialize, while at the same time providing an opportunity for the young people to meet and for marriages to be negotiated.  On the last day of the Bear Dance, the Sundance Chief would announce dates of the Sundance.
They obtained soap from the root of the yucca plant.  The yucca was used to make rope, baskets, shoes, sleeping mats, and a variety of household items.  The three-leaf sumac and willow were used to weave baskets for food and water storage.  Chokecherry, wild raspberry, gooseberry, and buffalo berry were gathered and eaten raw.  Occasionally juice was extracted to drink and the pulp was made into cakes or added to dried seed meal and eaten as a paste or cooked into a mush.  A medicinal plant used by the Utes is Bear root (Ligusticum portieri) also commonly known as osha. It can be used topically, in baths, compresses, and ointments to treat indigestion, infections, wounds and arthritis. 




















2. Colonial experience of the culture

Early Colonists

When the Spaniards began colonizing the west in the 1500s, they were using the routes that the Utes had created. The Utes were greatly influenced by the Spaniards by everything from use of tools and language to disease and population decimation.  The two cultures developed trade and were able to learn a lot from each other.  As the Europeans began invading their lands more and more and using their resources, the Utes were forced to try to defend their home and thus there were many conflicts that ensued.  The Spanish colonists captured Utes (as well as other Native Americans) and made them work as slaves.  In 1673, Ute captives began escaping from the Spaniards, taking their horses with them.  Thus, the Utes were one of the first Native Americans to acquire horses greatly increasing the ways in which they could hunt and travel.  As European invaders noticed the resources that the Ute’s home had to offer, the colonizing in the west increased causing the tribes to become displaced and often relocated to barren lands where it was difficult to live.     

Treaties and Agreements with the Utes

A peace treaty, which gave sovereignty to the United States and established boundaries between the Utes in New Mexico and the U.S. was signed on December 30, 1849.   

A treaty was signed in 1863 that gave all the mineral rights and lands in San Luis Valley to the Europeans that had settled there and did not recognize the Ute claims to them.

In 1873, the Brunot Agreement negotiated the Ute’s rights to their lands.  The treaty was ratified in 1874. This treaty tricked the Utes into signing away about four million acres of land by making them believe that the land would still be theirs but with mining occurring on it.  Finally in 2009, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed which gave the Utes hunting and fishing rights in the Brunot area, which is off of their reservation.

In 1895, the Hunter Act created a divide in the small reservation where the Utes lived and made the land available for sale to non-Indians.  Allotments were sold to many non-Indians. The Southern Ute tribe had around 300 allotments in the 1940s but that number has greatly decreased.

Southern Utes Reservation

A reservation for the Southern Ute was established in 1868, which consisted of 56 million acres in the western half of Colorado.  The Brunot Agreement greatly reduced this land making it difficult for the tribe to continue their hunting and seasonal practices. 

In 1895, a 15-mile wide and 110-mile long reservation was established.  The Hunter Act made it possible for allotments to go to tribal members and the rest of the land to non-Indians and homesteaders.  

The Southern Ute tribe now has a reservation of 1125 square miles.

 Ute Water Rights

The United States approved the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act in 1988.  This provided irrigation and municipal and industrial water to the Ute tribes.  It also resolved water rights claims to water that the Utes considered to be theirs.  The Ute tribes still have no plan concerning water and federal funds for pipelines connecting the reservoir to the reservations are lacking.   

“History of the Southern Ute.” Southern Ute Indian Tribe. 2015. Web. 06 March 2015.




3. Contemporary developments or issues

The modern day Ute tribe has broken into three smaller sub sections between three different groups, Northern Ute tribe, Southern Ute tribe, and the Mountain Ute tribe. As a whole, present day Utes only occupy a small fraction of their former territories. The current challenges and opportunities that the Ute face are similar to those of other Native American tribes that live on reservations. There are strong cultural differences between Utes and the rest of America that have resulted in poverty, educational difficulties and marginalization in society.

The largest of the three tribes is the Northern Ute that reside on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in northeastern Utah. During the mid 20th century, a dispute broke out between the Northern Ute and the other Ute groups during the gain of the new land and reservation. As a result, a Ute Partition Act was put in place that stated that any tribal member with half or less Ute blood was seen as a mixed-blood, which disfranchises them in terms of rights to tribal lands and equal legal treatment. Since 2002, the Ute tribe has been seeking civil action to repeal the Ute Partition Act. After the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Northern Ute group began to buy back former tribal lands. In 1948 they gained the Hill Creek Extension through the government that returned 726,000 acres. Then in the 1980s the Northern Ute tribe was given legal jurisdiction over 3 million acres of alienated reservation lands. Since then discoveries of oil and gas have been made on this land, it holds a promise to increase living standards for Utes. In 1965, the Northern Ute tribe agreed to divert its water from the Unita Basin to the Great Basin. For their cooperation, the US Bureau of Reclamation agreed to build units to provide storage of the tribe’s water. However by 1992, the Bureau of Reclamation had made no progress on following through with their end of the agreement. To compensate the tribe, under Title V of the Central Utah Project Completion Act had a settlement for the Northern Ute tribe to receive $49.0 million for agricultural development, $28.5 million for recreation and fish and wildlife enhancement and $195 million for economic development.

The Southern Ute are one of the wealthiest tribes and claim to have financial assets at around $2 billion. The Southern Ute gained their wealth from gambling, tourism and real estate leases, oil and gas and other off-reservation business investments, such as the Red Cedar Gathering Company and Red Willow Production Company. The Mountain Ute have taken a slower pace in assimilating to American culture.

The Ute tribe has taken to some small part of American culture. In 1963, the book When the Legends Die by Hal Borland was written about a Ute boy growing up on a reservation after his parents die and becoming a rodeo sensation. A movie was later released in 1972. In more recent popular culture, the University of Utah’s athletic department received explicit permission from the tribe to let the athletic teams be known as Utes. This was deemed appropriate since the state of Utah is named after the tribe.

Works Cited
"Chapter Five - The Northern Utes of Utah." Chapter Five - The Northern Utes of Utah. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
"The Southern Ute Indian Tribe." Southern Ute Indian Tribe The Southern Ute Indian Tribe Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
"Ute Indian Tribe." Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
"What Is a Ute?" Ute Memories. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.