Ernest House Jr. has resigned his position as executive director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs to take a job with the Keystone Policy Center.
House is the first Ute Mountain Ute tribal member to serve as the Indian Affairs director, a position he held for 11 years under three governors. The office is the liaison between the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Tribes and state agencies and advocates for other American Indian tribes with historic and current connections to the state.
“Ernest has played a tremendous role in ensuring our state government never lost focus on our tribal communities,” said Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne. “Our tribes have an important seat at the table and a strong voice thanks to Ernest’s commitment and dedication.”
During his tenure, House implemented the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act in Colorado, advocated for the Brunot Act preserving traditional hunting grounds for tribes and improved the required consultation process between tribes and state agencies.
To improve working relationships with tribes, the state and Commission of Indian Affairs updated internal policies within social services, department of education, and department of health and environment to better serve tribal communities, House said.
The commission’s outreach efforts have led to new positions such as a Native American child welfare coordinator, and more mental and behavioral health staff for Native American communities.
Part of the formula is more regular visits by agency officials to Ute Mountain and Southern Ute tribal communities to assess needs and hear about issues with state government programs.
“For example, taking direction from the Ute tribes, the Indian Commission office is finalizing plans with Cortez schools to add Ute history into the school curriculum for fourth-graders,” House said.
Other projects include supporting a Ute Film Festival in Aspen, working to create more comprehensive exhibits at the Ute Museum in Montrose and naming a 13,000-foot peak near Salida after Chipeta, a Ute woman and Indian rights advocate known for her diplomacy.
Initiatives to educate the public on the history of Colorado Plains Tribes was also part of the job, including promoting more awareness and recognition of the Sand Creek Massacre.
House said he will continue to advocate for Native American tribes as part of his new position as senior policy director with the Keystone Policy Center.
“My focus will include promoting outdoor recreation for tribal communities and elevating the tribal voice,” he said.
House is the son of Ernest House Sr., who served four terms as Ute Mountain tribal chairman and is the great-grandson of Chief Jack House, the last traditional, hereditary leader of the tribe.
The Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs hosts two of its quarterly meetings per year at either Southern Ute or Ute Mountain Ute headquarters. The next meeting is Sept. 28 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Southern Ute Growth Fund Conference Center in Ignacio.