Ute Mountain Utes have again elected Manuel Heart to lead the 2,100-member tribe in Southwest Colorado.
In a landslide victory Friday, Heart earned 231 votes to become the next tribal chairman, overcoming a field of six opponents, including incumbent Harold Cuthair, who received 40 votes.
Heart’s nearest opponent was candidate DeAnne House, who garnered 89 votes.
“Thank you for your support,” Heart said after the vote tally. “I thank all the candidates too, for your willingness to run and ideas to make our tribe better. It is the people’s input who makes us who we are at Ute Mountain, and we need each other to do the best we can and look to the future.”
Heart previously served multiple terms as tribal chairman and has served on tribal council.
The tribe also elected three new members to the tribal council.
Archie House Jr. and Darwin Whiteman Jr. were both elected to the council, earning 137 votes and 134 votes, respectively. Nine candidates ran for the two seats.
For the council seat representing White Mesa, candidate Malcolm Lehi won by just one vote over Suzette Morris, 32-31. Incumbent Elaine Cantsee came in third with 27 votes. Candidates may contest the results within three business days, election officials said.
Winning candidates expressed thanks for voter support and for the strong turnout. They gave short speeches in English and in Ute, said prayers and posed for photographs. Lines formed so tribal members could congratulate each candidate, shake hands and share hugs.
It will be Whiteman’s first term on the tribal council. He wants to promote a “solutions-based government with less blaming and hearsay,” he said.
He has served as an investigator and safety manager for the Ute Mountain Casino for the past 14 years and said the “fact-based and research” aspect of his job will carry over into government well.
“I want to build on our strengths, listen to the people and strive forward so that everybody benefits,” Whiteman said.
In an interview with The Journal, Heart said he has “a lot of ideas” and will be sharing them soon with council. He supports a plan to grow hemp to bolster the tribe’s agricultural market. Bringing sports betting to the casino also is worth considering, he said, as a way to compete with other nearby casinos and build revenue.
Another goal is to revive the Ute Mountain pottery business in Cortez, which recently closed.
“Our people make a lot of arts and crafts and need a place to sell those. The pottery store was our first business and has a lot of history, and we need to get it back open,” he said.
The other council candidate vote totals are: Prisllena Nightstarr, 120 votes; Lyndreth Wall, 103 votes; Angelita Berry, 81 votes; Leland Collins Sr., 80 votes; Mara Weeks, 76 votes; Brendon Adams, 63 votes; and Patapony Root Sr., 48 votes. Sixty-five ballots were invalidated by a judge for various flaws.
The other tribal chairman vote totals were: Quinton Jacket, 59 votes; Davis Wing, 53 votes; Emaline Casey, 44 votes; and Kenneth Bancroft 41 votes. Twenty-three ballots were ruled invalid.
In the race for tribal chair, 485 valid votes were cast, and for the tribal council election, 761 valid votes were cast. In White Mesa, 90 valid votes were cast, and two were ruled invalid.
More than 50 tribal members attended the ballot count, held in public at the Ute Mountain Community Center. Each ballot was read aloud and verified by three election officials, then tallied on a board. Ballots were also shown on a screen, and the whole process was recorded on video.