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Thinking the way Utes do

Common GroundBill KightGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Bill Kight
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A few months ago I had the privilege of helping put on a unique training session on the Flat Tops. It involved National Forest staff from across the White River National Forest and members of the Uintah-Ouray Ute Indian Tribe.The title of the course was “Thinking Like A Ute” and the words give away the course’s content.The challenge for those attending was to go about doing their everyday job on the forest by asking themselves, “What would a Ute Indian do in this situation?”The Ute Indian was not imaginary, rather a composite of all the wisdom and knowledge imparted by the Ute teachers present to the forest staff over a period of three days.When you work among the Ute People for more than 20 years as I have you realize the relationship Ute Ancestors had with their traditional homeland for thousands of years. They did not live on the land, they lived with the land.One of the instructors, Northern Ute Elder Clifford Duncan, says it this way, “You can take the Ute out of the mountains but you can’t take the mountains out of the Ute.”In the southern Rocky Mountains the Ute Indians were such a part of the landscape and blended into it so well that you have to be trained to find the little evidence of their presence that still exists.The now extinct mountain bison from our area provided hides for their tepees and meat that could be jerked for the winter or mixed with nuts and berries into a pemmican-like energy bar that rivals any of the so-called power bars of today.The Flat Tops provided needed material such as chert used for projectile points and the long, tall evergreens needed for tepee poles.Deer hide garments tanned by Ute women in a unique process turned them white and were highly prized by traders.Sacred plants still used today were gathered for all manner of ailments. Bear root tea is one of the best medicines I know of for chest congestion.None of these resources were taken without the proper ceremony. The bison, deer and elk spirits must first be asked in the appropriate way for their lives before they could be hunted.The spirit would be told that they would give their lives so that many relatives could live. After a successful hunt offerings were made thanking the animals for their sacrifice.Each sacred plant was first talked to in a similar manner as the four-legged animals. They were told that many sick people would benefit by their gift of life. An offering was placed near the plant then the roots would be dug up in a careful and respectful manner, wasting nothing.That’s in small measure how a Ute person in tune with the earth would behave. All is in accordance with an ecological model attuned to the mountains, a model that scientists’ field tests have validated.I wonder what would happen if we could all think like a Ute?With more than 30 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week.


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