“You think you own whatever land you land on
The earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name.”
And so it is with the Ute Indians, a people whose great respect and admiration for the land and its inhabitants weaves in and out of their culturally rich heritage like threads in a tapestry. Not unlike other Native American tribes, the Utes feel a deep connection to the land that is their home. Everything they believe and all they do is a direct result of this connection. The story of the Utes is one that spans over a thousand years. It is a mystery, an action adventure, a love story, a drama, and a tragedy all rolled into one. Theirs is the story of a people who believe that a great spirit made the world for them, who love the land and work in cooperation with nature rather than against it, and who have learned to adapt to meet the challenges they have encountered. When first the Spanish and then the Europeans set foot on Ute territory; however, everything changed for the Utes, making the story of the modern day Utes one of tragedy, injustice, and the strength of a people determined to persevere.
1. Origin – The Great Mystery
No one can really say when the Utes first came to the Colorado Plateau area of the Great basin or exactly where they came from. Their nomadic nature left little in the way of anthropological evidence to support an exact time of arrival and there have been many theories surrounding their origin. It seems to be agreed; however, that the Utes most likely entered the area of the Colorado Plateau sometime around 1200 AD and migrated here from the South based upon linguistics. Prior to the Utes occupation of this area, two ancient Indian nations also called the Plateau area home – the Fremont and the Anasazi. Some speculate that the Utes, Paiutes, and Shoshoni forced the Fremonts and Anasazi out of the Great Basin area, while others claim that climatic changes affecting their ability to farm may have forced these two groups out of the Great Basin (Madsen 1). Nevertheless, over time, the Ute people claimed this region as their home and thus began the love story of the Utes and the Colorado Plateau.
2. Cosmology – The Mystery Solved
As with many of the Native American tribes, the Utes believe in a great spirit, a singular deity who created the land and its inhabitants. In the Ute tradition, the great creator is called Sinawaf who, along with his brothers, Coyote and Wolf, “kept the world in balance” (Utah 1). Many of the animals including Eagle, Hawk, Bear, Coyote, and Wolf participated with Sinawaf in creating the world and designing the seasons (Lewis 25). When it finally came time to create people to inhabit the world, Sinawaf took all kinds of sticks and put them in a bag that magically turned them into people. From inside the bag, Coyote could hear the people singing and talking in different languages and, in...