Ute Mountain Utes addressed issues including law enforcement, economic development and business plans during recent community meetings in Ignacio and Towaoc.
In a two-hour meeting in Towaoc, outgoing tribal councilwoman Colleen Cuthair-Root presented information on government operations and fielded questions from an audience of 40 people.
To improve the tribe’s economy, leaders hope to develop a hemp farm, Cuthair-Root said.
“There is a lot of interest from hemp companies, but we are looking for the right company to partner with so it is a good deal for our people,” she said. “When company plans are presented, they must include the costs and projections of revenue for the tribe.”
In 2014, the tribe paid $825,000 to acquire Mesa Verde Pottery in Cortez, a popular tourism stop for Native American arts and crafts. The renamed Ute Mountain Indian Trading Post recently closed.
When asked about the trading post’s status, Cuthair-Root said an oversight board has been appointed to analyze local business ventures and work on hiring qualified staff. The board includes Ernest House Jr., she said.
Members of the crowd urged the tribal government to increase the $100 monthly per diem for tribal members. It has fallen from $125.
Tribal members in the crowd suggested that the petition process be used to require that certain discretionary funds be used to raise the expense amount.
The community also is recovering from the recent $1.1 million fraud in the tribe’s finance department in Towaoc, which resulted in convictions of numerous former employees.
Oversight policy has improved, Cuthair-Root said, “and if the right policies were put in place five years ago, none of this embezzlement would have happened.”
A Ute Mountain casino worker urged tribal officials to work on a training program that better grooms tribal members to become supervisors and managers.
He suggested that nontribal managers “be hired as interim managers who want to take the time to help mentor and teach (tribal members) the skills needed to move up, so we can have the chance to become managers.”
Indian Country lacks law enforcementDuring the recent Four Corners Indian Conference, agency officials, including U.S. Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said federal funding for law enforcement in Indian Country was inadequate.
According to the Department of Justice, in 2017 the rate of sworn officers nationwide was 2.4 per 1,000 inhabitants. But the Navajo Nation has 1.3 officers per 1,000 residents, according to the Navajo Nation Department of Public Safety.
Tribe officials said the Ute Mountain Police Department, which is run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has three or four officers on staff to cover Towaoc and surrounding areas, but it is not enough to meet community needs. Towaoc has a population of 1,087.
The Ute Mountain Ute tribe wants to hire additional officers through a competitive grant program, said Ute Mountain Tribal Chairman Harold Cuthair.
According to a 2019 budget report by the National Congress of American Indians, the BIA is funding tribal law enforcement at 20% of estimated need, tribal detention at 40% and tribal courts at 3%.
The 2019 BIA budget is $2.4 billion, but the proposed U.S. budget for 2020 has dropped to $1.9 billion. However, the 2020 budget request for public safety and justice activity shows an increase to $376.7 million, up from $350.1 million in 2019. The BIA provides services for 2 million Native Americans and Alaskan Natives in 573 tribal communities.
Inadequate funding for tribal criminal justice and public safety has resulted in higher rates of violent crime and victimization on many Native American reservations, the report says.
According to a Department of Justice study, more than 80% of Native American and Alaska Native adults have experienced a form of violence. More than one of three experienced violence in the past year, according to a 2016 report by the National Institute of Justice.
In their lifetime, 81.6% of male Native American or Alaskan Natives experienced criminal violence, compared with 64% of non-Hispanic white male population.
In their lifetime, 84% percent of female Native American or Alaskan Natives experienced criminal violence, compared with 71% of non-Hispanic white women.
Of those who experienced violence in the past year, 40% of Native American women and 73% of Native American men were victims, compared with 23.3% of non-Hispanic white women and 25.7% of non-Hispanic white men.
Because of the lack of resources, U.S. attorneys declined to prosecute nearly 52% of violent crimes in Indian Country, according to a 2010 study by the U.S. Office of Accountability, Bernhardt said.
The 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act requires the Department of Justice to help tribes collect data on crimes in Indian Country. But a 2017 report by the department’s inspector general found the effort has been inadequate, according to a review by Reuters.
“Clearly, when you look at the numbers, we need to make a greater investment in law enforcement in Indian Country,” Bernhardt told reporters from The Journal, Durango Herald and Southern Ute Drum. The BIA is managed by the Department of the Interior.
On Oct. 11, tribal members will elect a tribal chairman and three council members.
Seven candidates are running for chairman, including incumbent Harold Cuthair and challengers Quinton Jacket, Manuel Heart, DeAnne House, Emeline Casey, Davis Wing and Kenneth Bancroft.
Nine candidates are running for two Tribal Council seats in Towaoc. They are Lyndreth Wall, Mara Weeks, Archie House Jr., Prisllena Nightstarr, Patapony Root Sr., Angelita Berry, Brendon Adams, Leland Collins Sr. and Darwin Whiteman Jr. The top two vote-getters will serve a three-year term.
Candidates for the White Mesa Tribal Council position are Malcolm Lehi, Suzette Morris and incumbent Elaine Cantsee.