TOWAOC - The booming beats of the Catching Eagle Drum Circle introduced Manuel Heart, the newly elected Ute Mountain Ute Tribal chairman, in an impressive swearing-in ceremony Friday morning.
Heart begins his second elected term as tribal chairman, and told an audience of 350 he is proud of the tribe's democratic process.
"Change comes from the people," he said, translating from his native Ute language. "As a tribe, we came together in the democratic elections, and I am proud and honored for this leadership opportunity."
Heart won in a landslide victory over Gary Hayes on Oct. 11, who served a seven-year term as chairman.
"I hand over the key (to the chairman's office) and congratulate you," Hayes said. "We may have different views as political leaders, but it comes down to the freedom of the people to choose in open elections."
The event was attended by leaders from the Southern Ute, Northern Ute, Paiute, Jicallaria and Navajo tribes. A minimarathon of speeches, interrupted by cheers, were delivered from outgoing council members and newly elected ones.
Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, Priscilla Blackhawk-Rentz, and Malcolm Lehi were sworn in as new council members. The election featured 29 candidates and was reportedly the highest voter turnout in Ute Mountain history.
"We're all a little nervous of the job ahead," said Heart, after some candidates stumbled slightly in repeating an elaborate pledge. "Malcolm (Lehi) put on those dark shades to look cool for the camera, but I think they're prescription."
In his acceptance speech, Heart emphasized that a coordinated effort from the nation's 516 recognized tribes is needed to gain influence in Washington D.C., where he said a lot of decisions are made regarding Indian Country.
"Tribal nations are the most regulated ethnic group in the nation," Heart said. "Working as a partnership, we have more strength with the U.S. government to respect our sovereignty and adequately fund our programs under our treaties.
Ute representatives have met with President Barack Obama, and are scheduled to do so again this month.
He has been good to Indian Country, and has introduced a consultation process with tribes," Heart said. "We have come a long way, but we also have a long way to go."