A new beginning for the Utes
We stood in the middle of the dance arena looking things over before Northern Ute Elder Clifford Duncan blessed the site of the future Smoking River Pow Wow.No cameras were present. No media. Only Clifford and four of us who were invited to participate in the historic ceremony were there.Above the round circle of bare ground rose the foothills typical of this part of Colorado. A few cliff faces of tan sandstone interspersed with steep terrain covered with piñon and juniper. A red-tailed hawk flies over.We walk to a spot above the cleared circle and sit on the ground. The ceremony begins with a Ute prayer. Clifford reaches his hands toward the town of Meeker below us as my mind goes back over the history of this place.The ceremony not only blesses the pow wow arena but the whole town and the land surrounding us. Driven out of this place by soldiers with fixed bayonets more than 130 years ago and told never to come back, the Northern Ute People are returning by blessing this new beginning.The way Clifford explains it none of the people now living in Meeker were part of that history of conflict. They are not responsible for what happened in the past. That time in history is gone. We must all move together toward a new beginning.This does not mean such a tumultuous past will be forgotten. People cast out of their ancestral homeland and disenfranchised for more than 100 years will continue to remind us that the lessons of history are personal.This is as it should be.To enter into the task of helping to heal history is not for the fainthearted. It takes courage and commitment. Criticism must be expected.Glancing to my right are two local ladies who have been instrumental in making this event happen. Liz and Lynn never gave up when their dream looked impossible to achieve.The ceremony continues as sweet grass smoke is fanned toward each of us one at a time.To my left is forest ranger Glenn, who, when he first came to the White River National Forest, asked the same question I had pondered more than 20 years ago.”Where are the people who belong here?”But he didn’t stop there. Glenn began reaching out to the Northern Ute Nation one day at a time and one person at a time.Tribal relations are a slippery slope in the best of times. Glenn adhered to the spirit of the federal laws requiring consultation between federal agencies and Indian tribes.Glenn’s persistence earned the respect of those watching from the sidelines to see if his efforts failed. People from the town of Meeker and from the reservation began meeting with each other.Leaders from Meeker also deserve credit for this new beginning. It is the right time. It’s about time.Come see the results for yourself this July 25-26. Grand entry starts at 1 p.m. Friday and Saturday or 7 p.m. Saturday.With over 30 years experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week.
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