Donated buffalo will take place of honor at powwow

phjeffburkheadIn Native American culture, the buffalo is sacred. That’s why the donation of a buffalo by the Northern Ute Tribe — for a meal during Meeker’s Smoking River Pow Wow in September — is such a symbolic gesture.
“The buffalo is a sacred animal to most Indian tribes,” said Bill Kight, chairman of the powwow committee. “What makes this buffalo special to us is the head will be used for the sun dance next year, in 2010. A buffalo head is normally used at the center pole at the sun dance. So donating an animal to us that will be used in the sun dance is a double honor.”
Lynn Lockwood, another powwow committee member, added, “We are very honored the Northern Ute Tribe has chosen to give us a buffalo for a traditional feast at the powwow, and we are excited that they are contributing funds for a hand game tournament. The hand game players will add a lively element to the powwow.”
powwowartworkThe donation of a buffalo is an example that progress is being made in renewing relations between the Utes — banished from the White River Valley in the late 1800s following the Nathan Meeker massacre — and the local community.
“It fulfills the mission of the powwow committee, which is honoring heritage, connecting communities and celebrating friendship, so we’re pretty excited the Northern Ute Tribe is reciprocating connecting their community with our community,” Kight said.
Dave Steinman, another powwow committee member, added, “It’s significant (the Utes) want to do this. This is the first time in 130 years they have wanted to reestablish relations. It takes a long time for those prejudices (on both sides, to be changed). They (the Utes) just want to be recognized as a people. And I don’t think the people here are anti-Ute.”
The Utes, the original occupants of the White River Valley, were transplanted to the desert of Utah, where the tribe has remained ever since. But last year, with the inaugural powwow, members of the tribe returned, many for the first time, to the land of their forefathers. After years of distrust and resentment, the powwow — and the behind-the-scenes work that went on leading up to the event — represented an important step in re-establishing a dialogue between the Utes and the Meeker community.
“We’re happy over the last three years the relationships that have been built with the Ute people and the people of Meeker are starting to come to fruition,” Kight said. “That’s what it takes. There’s a lot of skepticism from everyone that this is going to be successful. The fact that we’ve been working together shows that it has been successful.”
This year’s Smoking River Pow Wow — last year’s was the first one — will be held at a different time. The powwow was moved from July to late September. The dates for the two-day event, which attracted an estimated 600 people last year, are Sept. 25-26. It will be a busy weekend as Mountain Valley Bank’s Fall Festival will be held Sept. 26.
“It’s hard to schedule anything that doesn’t conflict with something else,” Kight said. “There are a lot of other powwows in August and some in July. We wanted to pick a date that didn’t conflict with other events at the reservation.”
The artist for this year’s Smoking River Pow Wow promotional materials is Kessley La Rose.
“He has expressed interest in working with the Rio Blanco County Historical Society and the Upper Colorado Environmental Plant Center to landscape the memorial at the Milk Creek Battle site, with plants that are meaningful to the Ute people,” Lynn Lockwood, powwow committee member, said. “He has also expressed an interest in working with the Blanco Ranger District to create a Ute children’s camping program in the Flat Tops.”
The original artwork will be auctioned at the powwow, with proceeds benefiting the children’s camping program. Kessley will have a booth at the powwow to sell his artwork.
A showing of the documentary film “We Shall Remain — the Ute” will be held at 7 tonight in the community room at the Meeker Recreation Center. Produced by Utah Public Television, the 28-minute documentary includes footage from last year’s Smoking River Pow Wow. There is no charge to attend the screening.
Joe Sullivan, who celebrated his 90th birthday July 10, had an open house held in his honor.
“In the first place, I really didn’t want it,” Joe said. “I could’ve gotten along really well without it. But I was really flattered. They really rolled out the red carpet for the old man.”
Joe, a longtime local rancher, went on a horseback ride the next day.
Rangely School Board members honored retiring teachers and school district personnel at last week’s meeting.
John Morrill, maintenance director, who was in attendance, was recognized for 22 years of service.
“I’m really tickled we got him recognized,” said Steve Kraft, the district’s chief financial officer. “He did a lot for the district over the years.”
Also honored, in absentia, were Patsy Drindak, 24 years as middle school secretary and administrative assistant to the superintendent, and Joe Kirkwood, who taught language arts at the middle school and high school for 16 years.
Jackie Heer, a retired ExxonMobil employee, was also recognized for her many hours of volunteer service to the school district.
“One year she had at least 1,000 hours. She volunteered a lot of hours, over and above,” said CFO Kraft.
With the recession, government entities, including both towns in the country, are looking to hold the line on expenses.
“The town has no formal hiring freeze,” said Rangely Town Manager Peter Brixius. “We have as a group of managers committed to the council to be fiscally responsible, and in so doing we have voluntarily elected not to backfill one current position opening and have left three summer positions vacant. We are also holding on budgeted new positions for the time being. The town is holding the line on expenses through the delay of capital projects as appropriate, and we are ensuring that we are well in line on salary and benefit expenses for this fiscal year.”
Meeker Town Administrator Sharon Day said, “At this time we do not have a hiring freeze. The only vacant position with the town is the police lieutenant, which we are trying to fill. We will be tackling these hard questions as we start the budget process, however.”
With the economy the way it is, there’s been a lot of interest in the current level of activity and future plans of energy companies operating in the Piceance Basin. In June, executives from Williams and EnCana offered their viewpoints during a meeting in Meeker.
“I thought it was very informative, but I didn’t like what I heard,” said Frank Huitt of Rangely, who operated his own business — K&R Fishing and Rental — before retiring. “It sounds like things will stay depressed, at least for ’09. I don’t see things picking up, at least for a while. I think things are going to stay pretty flat for the next year.
“It’s very expensive to drill out here; the terrain is fairly deep,” Huitt continued. “It brings your costs up, and if the price is not up, it’s hard to justify. But there’s a lot of gas out there. There’s enough natural gas in the basin to last 80 to 85 years. That’s what geologists say.”
Elaine Urie, who, along with her husband operates Urie Trucking in Rangely, said, “Both companies are especially concerned with the resolution regarding the fracing of wells — which has been going on for 50 plus years and does not and has not ever affected the groundwater — that could put a halt to the production of natural gas here if it is passed.
“All I can say is, Lord, help us,” Urie said. “Educate the people who sit in the big offices. All of the oil and gas industry is at risk, unless the people stand up and let their voices be heard.”
Pioneers Medical Center CEO Bob Omer and his wife, Debbie, recently returned from a trip to China to visit their youngest daughter and her family.
“It was great,” Bob said. “There’s so much to see. That was our first time in that part of the world.”
The Omers’ daughter’s husband works for a U.S.-based company that is expanding in the Far East.
“He served as a missionary in Taiwan for two years, so he’s very fluent in Chinese,” Bob said. “They will be there for two to three years, then come back to the States. At least that’s the plan.”
The Herald Times has added a Community Calendar feature to its Web site, which will serve as a centralized location for community events in Rangely and Meeker. To have events added to the calendar, click on the Community Calendar link on the newspaper’s Web site — — and simply e-mail the information to us.
Monday’s spaghetti dinner raised more than $1,300 to go toward the medical expenses for Shayne Armstrong of Rangely, who was seriously injured June 7 in a one-vehicle accident.
“ I thought it went great,” said Jackie Fortunato, one of the organizers of the fundraising event held at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Rangely. “I’m not sure how many people (attended), but I would guess at least 150 people.”
“We had to do something for the big guy,” added Jackie’s husband, George.
It’s almost time for the annual Rio Blanco County fair. Actually, it’s here.
The 4-H Fashion Revue is tonight at the fairgrounds, followed by a shoot-off Saturday at the Meeker Sportman’s Club, then a horse show Aug. 1 and a dog show Aug. 4. The activities began in earnest on the 4th, running through the 8th.
After the fair, it won’t be long and school will be starting. Wow, where did the summer go?
After taking photos at a baseball clinic July 13 in Rangely, I returned to my vehicle only to find I had locked my keys inside.
Thanks to Tim Webber, Rangely Recreation Center director, who happened along and had the necessary tools to unlock my Jeep, and to Town Manager Peter Brixius, who dispatched local police officer Otis Hayes to help me out.
Then, three days later, when I was back in Rangely, I received a phone call from Town Manager Peter Brixius, who saw me walking on Main Street.
“You’re on foot by choice, right?” Peter asked, checking to see if I had locked my keys in my vehicle again.
Rio Blanco County Undersheriff Mike Joos, when I told him about locking my keys in my vehicle, asked, “You take that backpack with you wherever you go, and you’re telling me you don’t keep a spare key in there?”
OK, why didn’t I think of that?

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at