A Utahn’s search for culture, history and education

by RITA TOTTEN

“If you don’t have a command of history you are vulnerable,” said Forrest Cuch, who has been the executive director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs since 1997. As director he works to enhance intergovernmental relationships throughout Utah. His experiences at the Division, coupled with his history as an educator, have made him successful. As a graduate of Westminster College he went on to teach social studies and become the education director of the Ute Tribe.

Growing up, Cuch was faced with trauma of an intellectual nature. While at home his parents told him about his culture and his people but at school he was taught that Native Americans didn’t contribute to civilization. Unsure of whom to believe, he had mixed feelings about school.

The contradictory information he received as a child is what drove him to challenge what kids are learning. Cuch believes that there is a need for reform and change and teachers should be taught to change social norms. “Cultural diversity makes the wonderful life we have today,” he said.

“The best way to teach is out of the heart,” he said. He believes that to provide great education to children, parents need to entrust their education with the right people. Cuch said it is important to find people who love children. Employing individuals who will nourish and foster children is essential. In addition, he believes paying teachers a decent salary is vital and suggests looking for new and alternative ways to teach and hook kids.

The biggest accomplishment and what he is most proud of is the empowerment training he helped develop. He trained more than 90 individuals from tribes and urban areas. The training focused on four main sections. The first was reteaching history. Cuch emphasized the importance of not believing everything one is taught; reteaching and relearning is key. Secondly, community develop was highlighted.

Physical and mental health were the last two components of the training. Before white settlers came to the Americas, Native Americans had never been exposed to alcohol and sugar, Cuch said. These elements were treated like toxins to their bodies and contributed to the setbacks that many Native Americans have faced.

The University of Utah is currently reviewing the program and Cuch hopes to receive more funding to continue his work. So far, the training has been held three different times: in 2002, 2003 and again in 2005. The main message he hopes people will take from the training is that education really is the key for success in business, personal and health aspects.

Bly Miller, a Park City resident and former teacher, is a member of the Iroquois tribe. Miller remembers the lessons her mother and grandmother taught her about the importance of knowing her culture and history. “They were always telling me about the struggles of our people and how no matter what they kept going. Knowing your history is vital because we are our history, our ancestors,” she said.

Miller has worked closely with the Iroquois tribe, educating its young on everything from tradition to basic life skills. She feels that her purpose in life is to teach and pass on what she has learned from her family. “If I can offer my knowledge to these children than I have done my part as a citizen of the world,” Miller said.

Cuch’s passion for education comes from the hardships he faced in school. While in high school he was exposed to the pain that came with the “white” version of history. Once he was in college he began to explore and learn the truth about his people and started his work with Native Americans. The result of this educational journey is the humanity he spreads through his work as a Ute and citizen. “History is not in the past,” he said, “it is now.”