Gary Hayes has been leading the Ute Mountain Ute tribe for three years as tribal chairman. Before that, he served a three-year term as a Tribal Council member, and prior to that, he completed a 25-year career with the U.S. Navy.
Now, Hayes is asking voters for a second term as tribal chairman in order to continue ongoing efforts to improve reservation life and secure Ute independence.
“I ask to continue to be the voice for our people, to advocate for more opportunities today and for a brighter future for the next generation,” Hayes said.
A key aspect is public safety, he says, which has improved.
“Looking back, we had three to five officers, and that included White Mesa, Utah,” Hayes said. When a crime wave hit, Towaoc was declared ‘the murder capital of the state’ based on per-capita population.
“We put our heads together with the BIA and the Department of Justice, and today we have 18 officers. It was long overdue, and crime has gone down,” he said. “A key factor for economic development is a safe community. People who want to invest in the tribe need that due process in the courts so that everybody’s rights are protected.”
Under the reservation system, some services are provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs through federal funds.
Hayes and the council worked to take advantage of a program that allows tribes to run and staff their own programs.
“We took over a lot of the functions of the tribal courts,” he said. “The result is we went from 1-2 clerks to double that. We are more independent.”
Responding to allegations of absent elected officials, Hayes emphasized the importance of representing the tribe in Washington D.C., Denver, Albuquerque, and elsewhere where decisions on funding and programs are made for tribes.
“In Indian Country, we have learned the lesson of ‘If your not at the table, your on the menu,’ and we have been on the menu a lot in the past. Being there to represent your community makes a difference.”
For example, as an advisory council member for Human Health Services, he helped change a rule so that the tribe can provide health insurance for members that is not counted as revenue by the IRS.
“IHS is underfunded, in violation of our treaties,” he said. “We supplement the service now with better access to health services and prescription drugs.”
Representing tribes overall is part of the chairman’s job as well, Hayes added. Outdated policies have created loopholes that hurt tribal finances.
“States use tribal numbers to obtain grants that don’t benefit our programs,” he said. “Also because we are at the table, there is more consultation with tribes than ever before on policy changes.”
He disagrees with criticism that tribal government is not open to the public, but admitted “there is room for improvement.”
“Overall, when it comes to issuing resolutions or laws, there is an open debate,” he said. “We encourage participation at meetings, and the they are broadcast on TV.”
Hayes stresses that the chairman works in cooperation with the council. Together they created access to college courses in Towaoc through distance learning. So far 24 students have taken advantage. The tribe has increased the number of members in higher education from 30 in 2006 to 80 currently, and they are working toward opening a GED-testing center in Towaoc.
If re-elected, Hayes said he would continue efforts to open a closed treatment center at the tribe’s detention facility. Currently, inmates must be transported to Shiprock for treatment of substance abuse or behavioral problems.
He also is pushing for energy exploration, renewable industry and manufacturing jobs on the reservation, but said he cannot disclose yet what companies the tribe is trying to attract.
“We want to create economic demand, but do it with a common-sense approach that protects our land and artifacts,” he said. “We have come a long ways.”
Hayes objects to some perceptions that there is a lack of fair distribution of per-capita payments to tribal members.
“Everyone gets the same amount, no one gets more than anybody else,” he said, adding that tribal government must provide programs that benefit the whole community, not just individuals.
“If you think that any government, state, federal, or tribal is going to solve all your problems you are going to wait a long time.”