Merriott column: An Ancient Mountain heart sits there
It was Saturday afternoon at the Dixie Theatre on Main Street in Ruston, Louisiana. All of us were standing and cheering wildly as the U.S. Cavalry, dressed in what appears to have been dress blues, had blown “Charge,” the bugle call that signals the command to execute a cavalry charge. It is especially associated with the United States Cavalry as a result of its frequent use in Western films.
Seems to have worked most places except at Custer’s Last Stand. A simple unmistakable call, it was even recognizable by experienced horses. The cavalry was once again driving the heathen redskins from their attack on the “innocent” homesteaders. The cavalry was armed with Winchester repeating rifles and the Indians with handmade bows, arrows and throwing sticks.
Seemed fair then. Now, not so much.
You say, Frosty, were you dreaming that? No, it happened. It was probably 1959, and every Saturday parents would drop their children off at the movies, serving it seems two purposes. It gave our parents a much-needed break, and it helped to “educate” us kids. The cavalry were the good guys, even though the white eyes were stealing the land from the “bad guys” who had lived on the land for thousands of years. Of course, the Dixie Theatre was segregated, but that is a story for another day.
This all came tumbling out of my disc storage when I read and reread Carrie Hauser’s recent op-ed in the Post Independent, “Reflecting on History and Seeking Wisdom in a New Year.” If you missed it, I would recommend you read it online.
CMC also presented a moving Zoom video by Ernest House Jr. Mr. House is a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in Towaoc, Colorado. He is also grandson of the last hereditary chief of the Ute Indians in Colorado, Chief Jack House. Mr. House remembers his dad making the three-day train trip to D.C. to discuss Ute water rights.
This is particularly relevant today as, collectively, Indian tribes’ own rights to about a quarter of the water that flows through the Colorado River. They are, of course, senior water rights. According to anthropologists, the Ute Indians called Colorado and Utah home for somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 years. Mr. House remarked that he considered his people as “created from these mountains.”
The video is also on the CMC website, so one can still view this, as well. The Utes call themselves Nuche, meaning “mountain people,” call Mount Sopris “Mother Mountain” or “Ancient Mountain Heart Sits There.” On a side note, on Highway 133, Carbondale has Nuche Park, which is underused but open to the public. This is a marked contrast to the new townhomes on the Crystal River next to the Bald Eagle Preserve in River Valley Ranch where the riparian areas were clearcut illegally and a private property sign posted. I just don’t think the Ute elders would understand this concept.
Today, the Southern Ute Reservation is in southwestern Colorado near the Four Corners region and consists of 681,000 acres. This seems like a good chunk of land until you realize that the Treaty of 1868 reduced the Ute land from 56 million acres to about 18 million acres and then it was further reduced in 1874 by the Bruno Agreement by another 2 million acres as the federal government could not keep the white man from mining on the existing reservation owned by the Utes.
Today 15% of the Southern Utes living on the reservation do not have running water. Native American households are 19 times more likely to lack piped water than white households.
Mr. House is seeking “open and respectful dialogue” from us, the descendants of the European people who colonized the Ute lands. Colorado Mountain College, with 11 campuses in Colorado, is willing to officially engage in that process. Mr. House says, “Go Slow to Go Fast” and build relationships first.
I don’t think we can undo the wrongs we have inflicted on Native Americans. They once numbered some 18 million people in North America before the Europeans came in the 1600s. We should all seek to do what we can, though, by honoring existing treaties going forward, not committing any more atrocities like putting pipelines across sacred lands and endangering reservation water sources.
We all should seek to engage in this admirable effort to be good stewards of this spiritual place where Mother Mountain with twin matching peaks watches over the confluence of the Crystal and the Roaring Fork and then into the Colorado River. It is an awesome responsibility and formidable challenge. Let’s get started.
In full disclosure, Carly, my wife, is one-eighth Cherokee, so I want to keep the home fires burning for another 40 years.
Frosty Merriott is a CPA and former town trustee in Carbondale. He writes a monthly column for the Post Independent and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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