IGNACIO – Tribal members offered songs, traditional dance and words of gratitude to Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia as he proclaimed Friday a day of recognition for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and lauded the sovereign nation’s positive impact to the state and region.
“These types of events don’t happen every day,” said Tribal Council member Michael Olguin. “There’s a lot of pride.”
While the pre-luncheon event attended by a roomful of tribal members and employees was largely ceremonial, bigger business between tribal and state officials was slated for discussion later in the day.
Garcia and three other state cabinet members spent the afternoon with leaders and the governing body of the Southern Ute tribe hoping to gain a better understanding of how the state and tribe can work together.
“We just want to see firsthand what’s going on in Indian country and how we can help,” Garcia said before the proclamation ceremony.
The afternoon meetings between the tribe’s governing body and state cabinet members were closed to tribal members and the media Friday. But Tribal Council member Joycelyn Dutchie said beforehand that council members intended to address a number of issues on behalf of their people and government, including health care and taxes.
“We have a lot of concerns,” Dutchie said.
Colorado’s executive director of Indian Affairs, Carol Harvey, said during the proclamation ceremony that she’s “proud of the government-to-government relationship the state has with the tribe.”
But Dutchie said more state involvement is needed.
Among her biggest concerns is state officials’ lack of attendance at the quarterly meetings when important issues involving the state and the tribe are typically discussed. The tribe plays “a major part” in the region’s growth and happenings, and she hopes to see Colorado’s leaders at the discussion table more in the months and years ahead, Dutchie said.
Meanwhile, acting Tribal Chairman Jimmy Newton said the tribe is moving forward despite a recent upheaval in tribal leadership. “We haven’t skipped a beat,” Newton said.
The tribe’s former chairman, Matthew Box, resigned Feb. 11 amid allegations of wrongdoing and mismanagement. The tribe’s two top appointed executives departed in the days preceding Box’s resignation.
“We are still here,” Newton said Friday. “Our government is strong, and our people are strong.”