Ute Tribe: Wikis


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Southern Ute Tribe seal.gif

Tribal Flag of the Southern Ute Tribe

Total population
Regions with significant populations
United States (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico)

English, Ute


Christianity, Native American Church, other

The Ute (pronounced /ˈjuːt/ "yewt") are an ethnically related group of American Indians now living primarily in Utah and Colorado. There are three Ute tribal reservations: Uintah-Ouray in northeastern Utah (3,500 members); Southern Ute in Colorado (1,500 members); and Ute Mountain which primarily lies in Colorado, but extends to Utah and New Mexico (2,000 members). The name of the state of Utah was derived from the name Ute.



The native Ute language belongs to the Numic division of the Uto-Aztecan family of languages and is a dialect of Southern Numic. However, most current Utes speak only English. Other American Indian groups with native Shoshonean dialects include the Bannocks, Comanches, Chemehuevi, Goshutes, Paiutes and Shoshones. They share an individual language with Shoshonean.


Ute indians year 1878

Prior to the arrival of Mexican settlers, the Utes occupied significant portions of what are today eastern Utah, western Colorado and parts of New Mexico and Wyoming. 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 17 largest known groups were the Capote, Cumumba, Kapote, Moache, Moanumts, Pah Vant, Parianuche, San Pitch, Sheberetch, Taviwach, Timanogots, Tumpanawach, Uinta, Uncompahgre, White River, Weeminuche, and Yamperika. Unlike many other tribal groups in this region, there is no tradition or evidence of migration to the areas now known as Colorado and Utah — ancestors of the Ute appear to have occupied this area for at least a thousand years.



Contact with Spanish explorers

An early 1900s Uncompahgre Ute Beaded Horse Bag. This bag is made from brain tanned mule deer hide, 30,000+ glass trade beads, and tobacco balls stitched into the rim and sides of the bag for protection. These bags were used to hold sacred religious totems, pipes, and carvings, sometimes an effigy of a medicine horse or medicine buffalo, or some other totem of power. The contents of these bags were never opened for viewing outside of ceremonies or in private. These objects were associated and used in private prayer and family rituals.

The Ute's first contact with Europeans was with early Spanish explorers in the 1630s. Horses were eventually obtained through trading with the Spanish colonists in New Mexico or theft from those settlements. The subsequent increase in mobility made possible by the horses was instrumental in changing aspects of Ute society in ways that paralleled the Plains Indian cultures of the Great Plains. This social upheaval resulted in various degrees of consolidation, political realignment and tension between the various Ute groups. The Utes were for the most part enemies of the Spanish and the conquered Pueblo towns, and they engaged in a long series of wars, in some cases three-sided, with the Navajo, various other Apache tribes, and the Comanche, especially in the plains of eastern Colorado and northeastern New Mexico.

Contact with other European settlers

The Ute experience with European-American settlers is similar to that of many other Native American groups: competition, confrontation and eventual coerced relocation to reservations. Of particular interest are the Walker War (1853–54) and Black Hawk War (1865–72) in Utah.

Delegation of Ute Indians in Washington, D.C. in 1880. Background: Woretsiz and general Charles Adams (Colorado) are standing. Front from left to right: Chief Ignatio of the Southern Utes; Carl Schurz US Secretary of the Interior; Chief Ourayand his wife Chipeta.

Over the years, friction between recently arrived white settlers and goldseekers in Utah and Colorado and local Ute groups resulted in several other skirmishes and incidents. In the same period, Ute sometimes allied themselves with the United States in their wars with the Navajo, for example in 1863, and with the Apache.

A series of treaties established a small reservation in 1864 in northeast Utah, and a reservation in 1868, which included the western third of modern Colorado, and that included land actually claimed by other tribes. This was whittled away until only the modern reservations were left: a large cession of land in 1873 transferred the gold-rich San Juan area, which was followed in 1879 by the loss of most of the remaining land after the "Meeker Massacre".

Eventually, the various bands of Utes were consolidated onto three reservations. Several of these bands still maintain separate identities as part of the Ute tribal organizations. Although initially large and located in areas that white settlers deemed undesirable (occupying parts of Utah and most of western Colorado), the sizes of these reservations were repeatedly reduced by various government actions, encroachment by white settlers, and mining interests. In the 20th century, several U.S. federal court decisions restored portions of the original reservation land to the Ute Tribes' jurisdiction and awarded monetary compensations.

Northern Ute culture

An Uncompaghre Ute Shaved Beaver Hide Painting. The Northern Ute would trap beavers, shave images into the animals' stretched and cured hides, and use them to decorate their personal and ceremonial dwellings.

The Northern Utes, and in particular the Uncompahgre Ute from Colorado, are exceptional artists and produced extraordinary examples of religious and ceremonial beadwork, unusual art forms, and cunningly designed and decorated weapons of war in their traditional culture. The Ute obtained glass beads and other trade items from early trading contact with Europeans and rapidly incorporated their use into religious, ceremonial, and spartan objects.

A Northern Ute Beaded Pipebag. This pipebag is made from brain-tanned mule deer hide, more than glass trade beads, and eagle bone. This pipebag incorporates the sacred symbols of the Ute, the blue fire, the yellow fire, the green of the earth and the hail of the thunder beings, motifs of the turtle (earth) and moccasin (home), and the symbol of the red fire and the bear, sacred animal of the Ute.

Like their southern neighbors, the Diné (Navajo), a large percentage of Northern Ute are members of the Native American Church and are active in peyote ceremonies. Traditional Ute healers still use peyote to treat infections, and a variety of other plants, including Elk Root, Bear Root (Ligusticum porteri), and tobacco sage. The Ute have integrated peyote religion into their culture, with the resulting artistic and expressive influences pervading their art and rich cultural and ceremonial objects. There is evidence the Ute have used peyote obtained through trade and other potent ceremonial plants used as entheogens since ancient times, such as the dried leaves of Larb (a species of Manzanita), tobacco sage collected from the Escalante area (a mild hallucinogen when smoked), and the potent and narcotic White Uinta water lily. Tobacco Sage was also brewed into a tea with Elk Root and the root of the Yellow Uinta water lily and used to treat tumors and cancer. (While the root of the Yellow Uinta water lily is toxic in large amounts, small amounts can be used to strengthen the heart muscle in people with heart ailments.).

Ute Petroglyphs at Arches National Park

Ute religious beliefs borrowed much from the Plains Indians after the arrival of the horse. The Northern and Uncompahgre Ute were the only group of Indians known to create ceremonial pipes out of salmon alabaster, as well as a rare black pipestone found only in the creeks that border the southeastern slopes of the Uinta Mountains in Utah and Colorado. Although Ute pipe styles are unique, they resemble more closely the styles of their eastern neighbors from the Great Plains. The black pipestone is also used to make lethal war clubs that were used very efficiently from the back of a horse. The Ute have a religious aversion to handling thunderwood (wood from a tree struck by lightning) and believe that the thunder beings would strike down any Ute Indian that touched or handled such wood. This is also a Diné (Navajo) belief. There is extensive evidence that contact between the two groups existed since ancient times.

Each spring the Utes (Northern and Southern) hold their traditional Bear Dances. Origin of the Bear Dance can be traced back several centuries. Each year, a mid-summer fasting ceremony known as the Sun Dance is held; this ceremony has important spiritual significance to the Utes.

An Uncompaghre Ute Buffalo rawhide ceremonial rattle filled with quartz crystals. The rattle produces flashes of light (mechanoluminescence) created when quartz crystals are subjected to mechanical stress when the rattle is shaken in darkness.

The Uncompahgre Ute Indians from central Colorado are one of the first documented groups of people in the world known to utilize the effect of mechanoluminescence through the use of quartz crystals to generate light, likely hundreds of years before the modern world recognized the phenomenon. The Ute constructed special ceremonial rattles made from buffalo rawhide which they filled with clear quartz crystals collected from the mountains of Colorado and Utah. When the rattles were shaken at night during ceremonies, the friction and mechanical stress of the quartz crystals impacting together produced flashes of light which partly shone through the translucent buffalo hide. These rattles were believed to call spirits into Ute Ceremonies, and were considered extremely powerful religious objects.

Modern history

A Northern Ute dancer performs the Gourd Dance. The Gourd dance originates from the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.

Present-day Utes occupy a small fraction of their former territories.

Northern Ute Tribe

The largest tribes are the Northern Ute,which live on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation in northeastern Utah. It is the largest of several groups of Ute and Shoshone Indians that were relocated to the Northern Ute Indian Reservation during the late 19th and early 20th century, including the Northern Shoshone, Uintah, Uncompahgre, Whiteriver, and Southern Ute. Some believe that the Northern Ute disfranchised the other Ute groups when they reorganized the Northern Ute Tribe during the mid 20th century and gained control of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation as a result, however the people from the U & O reservation are well aware of where their ancestors came from. Lawsuits and litigation have been commonplace between the mixed blood Utes and the Northern Ute Tribe for rights to tribal enrollment and privileges. The Northern Ute Tribe has a 3/4 blood quantum requirement for tribal membership and have been accused by the mixed blood Utes of disenfranchising their rights to tribal lands and equal treatment. Some Iffiliates, descendants of certain Northern Ute families who chose to not identify with the federal recognition of their native ancestry, live on the reservation land holdings owned by particular families since the Federal Government forced relocations in the late 19th century. The Iffiliate Utes have recently applied for federal recognition and are involved in litigation with the United States and the Northern Ute tribe. The Iffiliates should not be confused with other mixed blooded Utes, which families did not choose to be unrecognized. The reason being that some half blooded utes are enrolled and are active members of both societies. Northern Utes can be found all over the world. True to their ancestry they have learned to adapt to various societies. A northern Ute is also called Nuchu. Various bands have more complex names and each name has a meaning. Over the years Northern Ute language has changed extensively with the combinations of different dialects and English language influences.

The Northern Ute Tribe began repurchasing former tribal lands following the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The 726,000-acre (2,940 km2) Hill Creek Extension was returned to the tribe by the federal government in 1948. Court decisions in the 1980s granted the Northern Utes "legal jurisdiction" over three million acres (12,000 km²) of alienated reservation lands. Oil and gas discoveries on Ute land in Utah hold promise of increased living standards.

Uncompahgre Ute Salmon Alabaster Ceremonial Pipe. Ute Pipe styles are similar to those of the plains Indians, with notable differences. Ute Pipes are thicker and use shorter pipestems than the plains style, and more closely resemble the pipe styles of their Northern neighbors, the Shoshone.

In 1965, the Northern Tribe agreed to allow the United States Bureau of Reclamation to divert a portion of its water from the Uinta Basin (part of the Colorado River Basin) to the Great Basin. The diversion would provide water supply for the Bonneville Unit of the Central Utah Project. In exchange, the Bureau of Reclamation agreed to plan and construct the Unitah, Upalco, and Ute Indian Units of the Central Utah Project to provide storage of the tribe's water. By 1992, the Bureau of Reclamation had made little or no progress on construction of these facilities. To compensate the Tribe for the Bureau of Reclamation's failure to meet its 1965 construction obligations, Title V of the Central Utah Project Completion Act contained the Ute Indian Rights Settlement. Under the settlement, the Northern Tribe received $49.0 million for agricultural development, $29.5 million for recreation and fish and wildlife enhancement, and $195 million for economic development.

Southern Ute Tribe

The Southern Ute Indian Reservation is located in southwestern Colorado, with its capital at Ignacio. The area around the Southern Ute Indian reservation are the hills of Bayfield and Ignacio, Colorado.

The Southern Ute are the wealthiest of the tribes and claim financial assets approaching $4 billion.[2] Gambling, tourism, oil & gas, real estate leases, plus various off-reservation financial and business investments have contributed to their success. The tribe owns the Red Cedar Gathering Company, which owns and operates natural gas pipelines in and near the reservation.[3] The tribe also owns the Red Willow Production Company, which began as a natural gas production company on the reservation, but has expanded to explore for and produce oil and natural gas in Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. Red Willow has offices in Ignacio, Colorado and Houston, Texas.[4] The Sky Ute Casino and its associated entertainment and tourist facilities, together with tribally-operated Lake Capote, draw tourists and host the Four Corners Motorcycle Rally each year. The Ute operate KSUT, the major public radio station serving southwestern Colorado and the Four Corners.

A Northern Ute Ceremonial Knife made from white quartz and Western Cedar wood. These knives were used to cut the umbilical cord of a newborn infant or to harvest sweetgrass and other sacred herbs for ceremonies.

Ute Mountain Ute Tribe

The Ute Mountain Ute are descendants of the Weminuche band who moved to the western end of the Southern Ute Reservation in 1897 (ironically, under the leadership of Chief Ignacio, for whom the eastern capital is named). The Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation is located near Towaoc, Colorado, and includes small sections of Utah and New Mexico. The Ute Mountain Tribal Park abuts Mesa Verde National Park and includes many Anasazi ruins. The White Mesa Community of Utah (near Blanding) is part of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe but is largely autonomous.

Modern challenges

Gradual assimilation into American culture has presented both challenges and opportunities for the Utes. The current conditions of the Utes are similar to those of many Native Americans living on reservations. Cultural differences between the Utes and the rest of America have contributed to pockets of poverty, educational difficulties and societal marginalization, although the Southern Ute Tribe is financially successful.

Notable Utes

References in fiction

  • Bearstone by Will Hobbs is about a troubled Weeminuche Ute boy who goes to live with an elderly rancher whose caring ways help the boy become a man.
  • Beardance by Will Hobbs On a trip in the San Juan Mountains, an Weeminuche Ute boy helps two orphaned cubs and, at the same time, completes his spirit mission.
  • When the Legends Die by Hal Borland A Ute boy grows up from a reservation after his parents die and becomes a rodeo sensation
  • Hunting Badger by Tony Hillerman Based on an actual case, the attempted robbery of a Ute Indian gambling casino.

See also


External links


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