TOWAOC – A blanket kept the drum’s spirit warm and protected. When removed, ensuing unison beats from a seven-man drum circle echoed throughout the tribal chambers.
As the honor drum ensemble played, an elderly woman on the back row nodded to the rhythms. Then she joined the men, singing in their native tongue. Closer, sitting within arms length of the pounding drum, a preschool girl opened her eyes wide when startled by a boom of the drum. The beats grew louder.
“Le-le-le-le-le,” a woman trilled.
The moving ceremony commemorated a milestone in the history of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. After DeAnne Wall was sworn into office on Friday, Jan. 17, with a round of applause and cheers, women held the council majority. Securing 118 votes in a Jan. 10 special election, Wall solidified the tribe’s first female majority council.
“It’s time for a change,” Wall told the standing-room-only crowd.
“I’m humbled at all of the support and trust the people have shown,” she said. “I will keep the people first and foremost in my mind.”
To make the tribe more prosperous and move the people forward, Wall said she would strive to build on past lessons handed down by elders. Today’s tribal warriors, she said, sit with her as tribal leaders, and she will continue the people’s fight.
After the hour-and-a-half ceremony, recently elected Ute Mountain Ute Tribal President Manuel Heart said, “In the last election, there was a large outcry from the people for change. Those new changes are coming about now.”
When asked about her thoughts, tribal chairwoman Juanita Plentyholes smiled and said that women would now get their way. She added that women were more in tune to people’s needs and concerns, and she predicted that issues such as economic development, healthcare, housing and education would be better-addressed.
“Men think in one direction,” Plentyholes said. “Women are a little more cautious and sensitive.”
Ute tribal members have long held that men led traditions and served as providers, but the shift in power demonstrates that times have changed, tribal member Constance Wall said. Her uncle is married to DeAnne Wall.
“Women can be just as powerful as the men,” Constance Wall said as well-wishers surrounded her in-law with congratulatory greetings. “I think this is going to be a very strong council.”
The ceremony started with greetings from Miss Ute Mountain, Little Miss Ute Mountain and Miss Brave. In traditional dress, the three girls shook the hands of those in attendance. It’s unsure if they realized history was in the making.
“Today’s event shows that little girls could one day become president of the tribe,” Constance Wall said. “It could happen.”
Other tribal members include Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, Priscilla Blackhawk-Rentz and Malcolm Lehi. They, along with Heart and Plentyholes, were sworn into office on Nov. 1, 2013, after last fall’s record election turnout.
Also sworn in to office on Friday was former Ute Mountain Ute Tribal President Gary Hayes. He received 131 votes.
“We’re all in this together,” he said addressing the gathering. “The song and the drum bring us together.”
Under tribal election rules, council members who run for tribal chair must give up their seats. The special election was held to fill those vacant posts.