by AARON K. SCHWENDIMAN
- Take a trip to the Ute and Ouray Indian Reservation.
Winding roads and narrow passageways of mountains and trees lead you through the countryside and into the northeastern region of Utah. More than 150 miles east of Salt Lake City is the town of Fort Duchesne, Utah.
Fort Duchesne is the central headquarters for the Ute Indian Tribe. Surrounding Fort Duchesne is the Ute and Ouray reservation, which is located within a three-county area known as the Uintah Basin. The reservation spans more than 4.5 million acres, making it the second-largest Indian Reservation in the United States. Enrolled membership is approximately 3,000 with more than half of its members living on the reservation, according to the Ute Tribe’s Web site.
“Our reservation has a variety of altitudes from 11,000 feet to just below 4,000 feet, from pine and aspen forests to the arid deserts of oil fields,” said Mariah Cuch, director and editor of the Ute Bulletin. “There is a wild range of wildlife from bear, moose, elk, deer, eagles and all the little critters in between.”
The land of the Uintah Basin plays a large part in where the Ute Tribe receives some of its revenue. The basin is home to many forms of hydrocarbons that have been trapped beneath the surface for millions of years, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs website.
Ute Energy, one of the largest businesses within the reservation, takes advantage of the many natural resources available to the Tribe. The majority of the company’s ownership is held by the Ute Tribe. According to the company Web site, Ute Energy was formed to enable the Tribe to become an active participant in the development of its energy estate.
Large businesses like Ute Energy establish tribal ownership over the land of the reservation. Smaller Ute-owned businesses on the reservation provide a local marketplace for people.
The Ute Plaza Supermarket and the Ute Petroleum Convenience Store are two businesses in Fort Duchesne that are owned by Ute tribe members.
“The supermarket has been here for years,” said a Ute Tribe member, who preferred not to give his name. “I like to support the locally owned and Ute owned businesses in the area, it makes me feel I am giving back to my tribe.”
Also located in Fort Duchesne is the Ute Bulletin. The newspaper is funded by the Tribe and is published bi-weekly. It provides the Ute Tribe in Fort Duchesne and its surrounding communities with news and upcoming events about the tribe and the reservation.
Cuch, the managing editor, has worked at the paper for eight years. She said about half of the Ute Tribe membership live off the reservation so she always has to think about what they want know.
“I try to look into functions and activities that are going on, always keeping in mind the historic value of today,” Cuch said. “I also try to highlight our youth and their accomplishments.”
Along with business, education on the reservation plays a large part in the Ute culture. The Tribe provides an education program called Head Start that introduces education to children and families early on in life.
“It is many things, it is an early childhood development program for at-risk children 3 and 4 years old,” Tom Morgan, director of Ute Indian Tribe Head Start program, said in a phone interview. “It covers their education, health needs, mental health needs and if there is any disability, it helps with that.”
Children who become accustomed early to the educational experience gain the skills they need to move ahead in their schooling, Morgan said. For the people at Head Start, their job is to reach the young students early so they will want to go to school in the future.
“We know we need to start really early with kids and at Head Start it does exactly what it stands for, it gives kids a head start,” Morgan said. “Especially on the reservation, kids need early exposure to learning and also the exposure their parents can get to help their children so they are more educationally minded.”
For people living off the reservation, asking questions and understanding tribal culture within the reservation will create awareness of the people and local events, Cuch said.
“We are a modern and functioning part of our area,” Cuch said. “On a cultural side our powwows are open to the public and would encourage people, if they’re curious, to come out to the reservation during those times and ask questions to come to an understanding [of the culture].”