Lyndreth Wall, Sr., was sworn into the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council on Friday for a three-year term.
He was reelected to the council in early October after earning 187 votes, or 54% of the 343 ballots cast.
Wall joins the tribal council during a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in Southwest Colorado. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe increased its emergency status to the “Red, Critical Stage” – the highest of four levels – for the Towaoc and White Mesa reservation communities in late October because of an increase in COVID-19 cases, including a stay-at-home order for its members.
“The most important thing is the safety of tribal members and employees,” Wall said over the phone his first week back on the council.
Last week, there were 10 new COVID-19 cases in Towaoc and White Mesa.
“In the last month, we have had a positive surge of cases on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation,” Tribal Chairman Manuel Heart said during the Ute Mountain Ute tribal announcement Monday.
There have been 92 positive cases in Towaoc, and 15 in White Mesa, Heart said.
Tribal members have to go into Cortez for medical assistance, but Wall said the Red “stay at home” measure is “meant to help care for our members.”
As education representative for the council, Wall emphasized the importance of students keeping up with their schoolwork by picking up printed assignments and worksheets at the Education Department and using the Wi-Fi hotspots around Towaoc.
The Montezuma-Cortez School District is transitioning in-person students to online learning on Thursday because of the number of staff and students under quarantine.
The tribal government is working to connect broadband fibers from Cortez to Towaoc, but it is a time-consuming and costly project that won’t help students immediately, according to Heart.
In the face of the challenges, Wall said he “needs to get the job done for my people, regardless of COVID.”
“I have to show what I can do for the sake of my people,” he said.
An honor song, called a chief song, was performed during the swearing-in ceremony to welcome and honor the new tribal leader, along with a blessing.
“To be a council member is hard. Sometimes you can get put down or sometimes you can be praised, but it is not often they are praised for what they do,” Heart said at the ceremony. “We have to change that mentality.”
COVID-19 was a challenge for communities around the world, he said.
Tribal leaders like Wall “will help give us direction on how we will move forward,” Heart said.