Loose Ends: Bridging the gap between cultures

F our years ago this month, the Northern Ute Tribe returned to the sacred ground of their ancestors. Since then, many individuals in both communities have come to know each other and to appreciate the efforts made by all to help them feel comfortable with each other. Two powwows have been held since this first get-together in Town Park and all those predictions about stirring up hidden hostilities and reoccurring resentments did not come true. Having smaller, more informal gatherings in the future was the mutual decision of representatives of the Northern Ute Tribe and the powwow committee, as well as interested community members who attended an appreciation dinner earlier this year in Meeker.
The traveling Smithsonian exhibit, Building Fences, was the most recent event that encouraged members of both communities to participate with one another. A small social gathering in the lobby of the Meeker Hotel gave everyone a chance to get together a second time and tribal elder Clifford Duncan and musician and flute maker Wayne Gardner came to take part in the event. It seemed more than appropriate to consider the progress that has been made since those early efforts. The following column appeared in the Herald Times not long after the first visit:
“The handmade banner hanging in the Town Park pavilion this past Saturday greeted the members of the Ute Indian Tribe from Fort Duchesne, Utah, warmly. The sign, decorated with children’s signatures and handprints, said it all: “Welcome Friends.” An emotional weekend gathering for all of the participants, the speeches and gifts given by local officials, prayers and introductory comments before music and dance performances offered by tribal elders, and one-on-one conversations between townsfolk and tribe members set the tone of increasing respect for one another and building a future based on frank communication about the past.
It was obvious to anyone listening to the speakers that both groups were attempting to get to know each other, as well as being open to a continuing relationship in the coming years. Expressing their fear about visiting the place of their ancestors, quite a few of the tribe members conveyed their anxiety, which has limited communication between the two groups. Interested in learning more about the Ute tribal culture and traditions, many Meekerites expressed the view that this first event should help pave the way for future visits with tribal members.
All of the presenters spoke honestly and openly, so that when the welcoming ceremony was completed, dialogue between members of both groups promised to keep the lines of communication open. Years ago, before the Ute reservation was thrown open for settlement, the early residents of the outlying areas began to build a relationship with the Ute Indians. They traded information, as well as goods, and when things heated up at the Indian agency, they let each other know about it. It wasn’t an easy relationship, but it sufficed for the survival of both cultures.
Reading through the historical accounts of the events that sparked the removal of the Utes from their ancestral lands, one is left with the feeling that in the end both groups lost. Whether it be loss of life, as well as loss of place, the void created by the complex lessons of the past yawns before us. The only way to close that void is to rebuild a solid bridge between cultures. It is the casual conversations between cultures that serve as building blocks for that bridge. Continuing to have cultural exchanges that include all ages of both Ute and Meeker community members is essential.”