The chairman of the election board for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe has left his post after engaging in contentious exchanges with Towaoc and Cortez-area residents on social media over political issues.
Several Ute Mountain Ute tribal members and Cortez residents made official complaints against Silverton House-Whitehorse, saying House-Whitehorse attacked them personally on Facebook while he was chairman of the board, which vets candidates for tribal positions, manages elections and counts ballots.
Sarah Tallbird and her sister, Angelita Torres, said they were targeted for leading a petition drive asking the tribal council to distribute federal relief money to tribal members amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“(House-Whitehorse) is posting our profile pictures and calling us ‘ignorant,’” Tallbird told The Journal. “It’s crazy.”
In screenshots of Facebook posts shared with The Journal, House-Whitehorse referred to petition supporters as “mentally ill” and “idiots.”
Tallbird said she shared the screenshots with tribal Chairman Manuel Heart about one month ago with hope that he would take action.
The call for financial relief came as the tribe faced high unemployment and a 50-mile travel restriction during the pandemic, which further limited job opportunities. In March, the Ute Mountain Ute Casino, a main employer for the tribe, temporarily closed because of the pandemic. It has since reopened to 30% capacity.
The tribe distributed the CARES Act money at the end of August.
In an interview Sept. 24 with The Journal, House-Whitehorse said he decided to step down as chair of the election board two weeks earlier.
“I didn’t want to cause a distraction from the election,” House-Whitehorse said.
The tribe has since appointed a new chair of the election board, Flaydina Knight.
History of complaintsComplaints against House-Whitehorse go back to May, the start of the Montezuma County Patriots’ Freedom Rides. Members of the group drive Cortez’s Main Street in trucks, cars and motorcycles, waving American, Trump, Confederate and Thin Blue Line (law enforcement) flags. A few vehicles display anti-Black Lives Matter signs.
House-Whitehorse’s comments intensified after Torres took a Ute Mountain Ute flag to a Patriots ride several weeks ago, Tallbird said.
“It just seems like hate to me,” Torres said, referring to House-Whitehorse’s social media comments directed at her and her sister. The Patriot Rides are “about uniting as Americans; what’s so wrong with that?”
House-Whitehorse said he was frustrated with the rides and participants’ support of President Donald Trump because he finds Trump’s comments on people of color offensive.
House-Whitehorse created a fake Facebook account to access the closed group Montezuma County Patriots Colorado, and saw “nothing but hate.”
Facebook posts directed at participants in the Freedom Rides were “me as an individual saying enough is enough,” House-Whitehorse said.
Supporters of the Patriots group said House-Whitehorse went too far.
Tiffany Ghere, manager of JFargo’s Family Dining and Micro Brewery and an organizer of the rides, said House-Whitehorse has shared false statements about her staff on Facebook and shared photos of children of participants.
“It’s very disconcerting,” Ghere said. “What he is doing is trying to incite division.”
House-Whitehorse also said similar comments on social media have come from the Patriots, including Ghere. House-Whitehorse said it is important to honor veterans and their sacrifices, but that the rides are intimidating.
The Cortez Police Department advised one Cortez resident who complained about him, Branda Mann, to block House-Whitehorse on Facebook. Jurisdictional laws between the city and the Ute Mountain Ute reservation leave open questions on which law enforcement agency is responsible for pursuing possible action, said Cortez Police Chief Vern Knuckles.
But according to 22nd Judicial District Attorney Will Furse, both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the state of Colorado would have jurisdiction if a crime occurred through text messages or social media because the crime would be committed in both places – on the reservation and in the state.
Mann also reported to the Cortez Police Department that House-Whitehorse “showed up near her apartment complex,” according to an incident report from Sept. 5. House-Whitehorse said it was a “complete lie.”
Mann also reported, incorrectly, that House-Whitehorse obstructed motorcycles and ripped the flag off a bike during a Patriots ride on Sept. 5. According to police, she later contacted the officer to clarify the man was not House-Whitehorse. The suspect in the incident was caught that day and released to his mother.
“She has been saying some horrible things about me,” House-Whitehorse said.
At a Cortez City Council meeting Sept. 8, Mann claimed House-Whitehorse is a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement in Cortez. House-Whitehorse said the only event he has participated in was the Juneteenth event on June 19, which honored the end of slavery in the United States.
But photos on Facebook dated June 27 and July 4 show House-Whitehorse at other public events with signs that say “Black Lives Matter.”
House-Whitehorse said last week that House-Whitehorse is pursuing restraining orders against members of the Patriots ride and tribal members who have made complaints against House-Whitehorse.
“I would like to talk with Tiffany (Ghere), but not if they have guns,” House-Whitehorse said. “I am a young person trying to find my way in the world, and these are grown adults.”
Ghere offered in a Facebook post to meet with House-Whitehorse, but he responded that the messages seemed threatening.