The Utes have a complex history and beautiful culture. Today, these tribes have learned to operate and succeed, despite a complicated past with colonizers, settlers, and government.
Today, the Ute people are divided into three main regions and reservations, the Northern Ute Tribe, the Southern Ute Tribe, and the Ute Mountain Tribe.
The Northern Ute Tribe is located on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Northeastern Utah in the Uintah Basin region, east of Salt Lake City.
The Southern Ute Tribe is located in Southern Colorado region, between Durango and Pagosa Springs.
The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is located near Towaoc, south of Durango, in Southwestern Colorado, extending into Utah and New Mexico.
History & Culture
The Ute people began inhabiting the Colorado Plateau area close to two thousand years ago, with family groups covering most of Utah, and some of Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico. The different family communities were united by the same language, trade, marriages, occasional military alliances, and common cultural practices, such as the Bear Dance, a traditional dance that in modern times is held annually to welcome the spring.
Utes, and other tribes of this region, are descendants of the Uto-Aztecs. Utes speak the Shoshonean language, a dialect of the Uto-Aztecan language.
During the 1600’s, colonization led to major changes in Ute culture. Use of the horse allowed the Utes to hunt over greater distances, and develop trade with Spanish colonizers. But the Utes and other Native people were also subjected to the violent slave trade, and violence between colonizers and competing Native tribes.
With the 1850s Mormon Pioneers settling the Salt Lake Valley, more conflicts arose. The settlers began competing for land and resources, often resulting in raids and fights. The US government eventually declared the Uintah Valley Reservation, designed to contain and establish the Native territory; however, the Utes continued to hunt and gather, living their traditionally nomadic lifestyle, which resulted in more continuing conflicts with the settlers.
Over the next several decades, the Utes experiences diseases epidemics, mandatory removal and relocation to the reservation, reduction of reservation territory, and failure to adjust to farming and ranching on the limited space of the reservation.
In 1934, Utes organized their own tribal government under The Indian Reorganization Act. Several lawsuits against the US government were filed claiming $40 million losses of land. Eventually, in the 1950s, Utes won several suits, resulting in about $32 million paid.
Today, the Ute tribes maintain close relationships with each other, though they are separate and distinct tribes, with their own variations of the culture and their own business enterprises.
The Northern Ute Tribe has close to 3,000 members of this tribe. Utes care for 1.3 million acres of trust land, the second largest reservation in the nation, and operate several small and large businesses from the reservations, including ranching, and oil and natural gas.
The Southern Ute Tribe has approximately 1,500 members of this tribe. They operate many different successful businesses, both on and off the reservation, including oil and gas production, real estate, housing development, gaming, and the KSUT public radio station.
The Ute Mountain Tribe has close to 2,000 members of this tribe exist. The reservation lies alongside Mesa Verde National Park, and contains a dense cluster of both Ute and ancient Ancestral Puebloan ruins. The tribe creates revenue by operating several farms and ranches, travel and touring, casinos, construction, and art and pottery.
Attractions & Cultural Centers
The Utes have several historically and culturally important locations, including:
- Ute Mountain Tribal Park, located near Towaoc, CO.
- Visitors can see Ancestral Puebloan petroglyphs, artifacts, and cliff dwellings, as well as Ute pictographs, on a guided tour.
- Ute Indian Museum, located in Montrose, CO.
- Contains large collections of Ute Indian artifacts, dioramas, and hands-on exhibits of Ute history and culture.
- Southern Ute Cultural Center & Museum, located in Ignacio, CO.
- Visitors have the opportunity to see galleries and exhibits that show the history and culture of the Ute people. Visitors can also walk around the exterior of the museum, to see the plants that hold significance to the Ute people.
Ute Indian Tribe. http://www.utetribe.com.
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe. https://www.southernute-nsn.gov/culture/.
Utah American Indian Digital Archive. http://www.utahindians.org/archives/ute/history.html.
Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. http://www.utemountainutetribe.com/culturemain.html.
“Ute People.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ute_people.