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MEEKER — “I thanked one of the Ute elders for coming back to Meeker, and it turned out he was Colorow’s great-grandson.”
“It was such a nice thing to see all the Meeker people dancing right along with everyone else.”
“The opening ceremony was so touching.”
These were only a few of the comments made by community residents after they attended the first annual Smoking River Powwow held in Ute Park recently. The most notable feature of the two-day event was the comfort and ease with which the two groups came together. A glance around the outskirts of the dance circle revealed community and tribe members sitting next to one another on the bleachers.
Now that the dust in the dance circle has settled, the coming together of the two cultures for the first time in more than a century is being celebrated. No one on either side of the culture gap knew how it was going to all turn out, but everyone seems to be in agreement that it was beyond anyone’s original expectations.
The bubble of resentment and misunderstanding dating back to the 1880s has burst, and a new relationship is beginning to take hold. While trips back and forth to the reservation in Utah, as well as here in Meeker, helped the participants and spectators learn what holding such a historic powwow would entail, it was the dogged determination and hard work of event organizers that ensured the success of this first effort. While most everyone looked at it as a new beginning, the key was that it was not built on that old foundation of mistrust and resentment, as the relationship between many of the earliest area settlers and members of the Ute Tribe were good.
Unlike my great-aunt and uncle who settled in the Delta area the year following the Ute’s banishment, many of the earliest settlers in this area settled on land on the edges of the White River Reservation. The Rio Blanco Historical Society’s local oral history series, “This is What I Remember,” Volumes I, II and III, include quite a few family stories about the positive interactions between the Indians and the settlers. It is striking that the organizers of the powwow felt it was important to make a good-faith effort for this new beginning, as before the town of Meeker was established some of those interactions between the merchants and businessmen so long ago were based on good faith alone. Whether it was a freighter who brought supplies to the Indian agents preceding Meeker, a store owner who provided free food and friendship, or a school teacher in a one room schoolhouse who had regular Native American visitors standing in the back of the classroom, there was a strong relationship formed between individuals.
The event organizers are hoping that the Ute’s return to the valley paves the way for a future strong relationship between the two groups. After all, before Meeker became a town, it was a community.