The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe said goodbye this week to a well-known traditional elder.
Thomas House Sr., 96, passed away on Feb. 12. He was the tribe’s eldest male member, and the remaining son of Chief Jack House, the last traditional chief of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe.
Thomas House Sr. was a respected spiritual leader, family man, and rancher who passed on traditional Ute values to the community, family and friends said.
During traditional gatherings he served as Bear Dance Chief and performed the Sunrise Service for the Sun Dance ceremony, said Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Chairman Manuel Heart.
“He was one of our tribal elders, and we recognize him and his lifetime of 96 years as a Ute Mountain Ute Tribal member,” Heart said in a report to tribal members. When tribal members pass on “they go back home to our Creator and back to all our family members that have gone home before us.”
House was a rancher, natural resources director and served on the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council in the 1960s. He was a member of the Native American Church, and organized horse races at the rodeo grounds.
House had many children and stepchildren, and was a grandfather and great-great grandfather. His son Ernest House Sr. died in 2011 and served four, four-year terms as tribal chairman.
In 2007 Associated Press article, Ernest House Sr. recalled his father discussing the Dolores Water Project, which led to the creation of McPhee Reservoir being built in 1983. The discussion was about the project bringing a stable water source to the Towaoc community where many lacked running water as late as the 1980s.
Ernest House Jr., the grandson of Thomas House Sr., served as executive director for the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs for over 11 years and is currently the senior policy director for the Keystone Policy Center. He is also chairman of the Fort Lewis College Board of Trustees.
Thomas House Sr. “was a very kind-hearted and honorable man, a spiritual individual who practiced traditional ways,” said his son, Selwyn Whiteskunk Sr., a Tribal Council member. “He looked after his tribe, his family and his people. He was strong and hardworking, and we looked up to him as an elder statesman.”
House and his wife took in many foster children and children who had no place to go, he said.
He grew up in the Mancos Canyon and Wetherill Mesa area with his father, Jack House. He herded sheep and cattle on Ute Mountain Ute land and traded goods with merchants in area towns, including Cortez.
House passed on the traditional ways and loved to tell stories of Utes moving with the seasons, and being skilled horsemen.
He managed the Ute Mountain Rodeo grounds during the days when horse racing took place.
Many of his children and grandchildren have become elected tribal council members and tribal leaders.
“My dad encouraged us to take on leadership roles,” Whiteskunk said. “When he was called upon to help his people, he never hesitated. We try to mirror his values. He was an awesome man who lived a long and interesting life, and will be missed.”
House was laid to rest in the Towaoc cemetery after a funeral in Cortez on Feb. 16, according to his obituary.