On a bench outside his office door, tribal members line up to speak about their concerns on a first-come, first-serve basis. He likes it that way.
“I listen to the people, and face-to-face is the best way,” Cuthair says.
He credits his open-door approach to a diverse career path that includes management positions at the casino and travel-center, a foreman job for the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch and years as a blackjack dealer.
He served three terms as tribal council member and was appointed acting chairman in 2002, experience that acclimated him to the politics and diplomacy needed for the top job.
“I learned to work long hours and be dedicated. Good communication is important for success,” he says.
Some of his priorities include improving housing and health-care services. He’s studying ways to improve those areas within a limited budget.
Opportunities for businessesEyes are increasingly turning to the local retail economy.
“A grocery store in town is something to consider so people don’t have to drive all the way to Cortez,” Cuthair said.
He believes that the Ute Mountain Travel Center and food court serve truckers and travelers. Next door, the casino, restaurant and hotel benefit tourists and entertainment seekers.
But 3 miles down the road in Towaoc proper, population 1,100, there is a lack of retail businesses.
“Maybe a restaurant or diner in town, something that serves the needs of local workers and residents is worth exploring,” he said. “It could provide more jobs and choices.”
Water is key to growthAnother area of focus for Cuthair is delivery of tribe-owned water from Lake Nighthorse, near Durango.
The reservoir – part of the Animas-La Plata Project – satisfies Ute Mountain Ute water rights on the Animas River. But the pipeline portion of the project to deliver the water to tribal lands was never built.
“We’re working with our partners on developing that resource,” he said.
Cuthair is keen on a creative solution for delivering the water: sending it down the Animas and San Juan Rivers to the Four Corners, where it could be piped to the Ute Farm and Ranch operation.
“All opportunities must be looked at,” he said. “We can’t grow as a tribe without water.”
Bears Ears monumentThe Ute Mountain Ute tribe is part of the InterTribal Coalition of five local tribes that supported and advocated for the newly created Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah.
Cuthair supports tribal management of the monument. “With tribal input, it will help preserve our historical lands there,” he said.
He said the tribe looks forward to participating in a Native American committee that will help advise management of the monument.
“We will be appointing a cultural expert and would like to have a representative from White Mesa involved,” he said. White Mesa is a satellite Ute reservation in southeast Utah that borders the new Bears Ears Monument.
The Utes have ancestral ties to the Bears Ears region, Cuthair said, and the land is used for traditional purposes such as hunting and gathering, collecting medicinal plants and harvesting reeds to make traditional baskets.
“Respecting the land, and not taking it for granted is important to the tribe,” he said. “The land provides for us humans and for the animals too.”
At 55, Cuthair is not slowing down. When not working, he enjoys spending time with his family and is a singer of traditional Native American songs.
“I will continue to work hard for the tribe,” he said. “It is a collaborative effort. The more eyes that look at a problem the more we can see all aspects and find solutions that benefit the whole tribe.”