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Ute chief returns to historic hunting grounds at Carbondale Mountain Fair

Christopher Mullen Post IndependentAmy Butowicz hangs decorations above the main stage of the Carbondale Mountain Fair, Thursday afternoon.
Christopher Mullen |

CARBONDALE — When revelers arrive at the Carbondale Mountain Fair this weekend, they not only will have a chance to have fun in the modern way — with music, food and crafts booths arrayed around Sopris Park for their amusement, starting when the artisans’ booths open at noon today (see the Options section in this edition).

In addition, they will get the opportunity to look into the Native American history of the middle part of the Roaring Fork Valley, through the music, words and drumming practices of the Northern Ute Tribe, which once called the Roaring Fork Valley home.

The opening of every Mountain Fair comes at about 4 p.m. Friday, when spiritual leaders from various cultures have historically given the opening blessing on the Fair and its visitors.



This year, that blessing will be given by Chief Roland McCook of the Northern Utes, assisted by Lightning Heart (née Fred Haberlein), an artist from the community of No Name east of Glenwood Springs.

Lightning Heart is an honorary member of a tribe in Arizona, according to Carbondale Trustee John Hoffmann. Hoffmann has been instrumental in keeping open the lines of communication between Ute tribal leaders and the town of Carbondale.



Following the blessing, there will be the traditional drum circle organized by Rhythms of the Heart and Mountain Fair matriarch Laurie Loeb. Loeb, unfortunately, will not be present for the drum circle because of health problems.

Fair organizer Amy Kimberly, director of the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities (CCAH), acknowledged that this will be the first time since the Fair began more than four decades ago that Loeb is not taking part.

Kimberly said there are plans to honor Loeb’s contributions to the fair from the stage.

“We’ll say we acknowledge that Laurie’s not here,” Kimberly said Thursday. “It’ll just be, like, yeah, we miss you, do a shout-out and say everybody loves you.”

Kimberly is credited with doing much of the work to bring a Ute presence to the park this weekend.

“We’ve wanted the Utes to come here for a while,” she said, “because they are the original inhabitants of the valley.”

Historically, before whites came to this area, the Utes occupied large portions of eastern Utah and western Colorado, as well as parts of New Mexico and Wyoming. Along the Colorado River Valley, Hoffmann said, they typically wintered in the Grand Valley, migrated over the Flat Tops to the Roaring Fork Valley in the spring, summered in this area, and returned to the Grand Valley by crossing McClure Pass in the fall.

“It was like one big circuit,” Hoffmann said.

McCook, according to Kimberly, has been working with Hoffman on “some kind of healing between the Utes and our community,” including the idea of naming a town park after the tribe.

In addition to the blessing ceremony, Kimberly said, McCook will set up a large tepee in the central open area of the park, to give residents and visitors a chance to see how the Utes lived at one point in their history. She said McCook and Clint Chartiers, another Colorado-based Native American, will trade off shifts at the tepee, talking with visitors and telling them of the tribe’s history, traditions and tragedies.

Plus, Kimberly said, the Yellow House Dancers will be performing Native American dance numbers in the park.

At 11 a.m. on Sunday, the schedule calls for Native Gospel with the Azteca Dancers, Hoop Dancers, McCook and friends.

“Instead of the traditional gospel [the musical theme for Sunday mornings at the fair in recent years], we’ll have Native Gospel,” Kimberly declared.

Hoffmann, who had hoped to circulate petitions at the fair asking the town’s trustees to name a park for the Utes, said bureaucratic hurdles in passing a town ordinance to establish a “naming protocol” for public property has held up the process.

Still, Hoffmann continued, he believes there is significant support among the community to name a town park to honor the tribe, noting that the park-naming effort goes hand-in-hand with the efforts by numerous Carbondale activists to preserve the Thompson Divide area from oil and gas development. Part of his goal with the park-naming project, he said, is to offer an apology to the Utes for driving them out and permitting urban growth to dominate the valley’s once pastoral character.

“When we first got here, it was a pretty pristine area,” he said. “In the last 150 years, that has changed dramatically.”

jcolson@postindependent.com


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