MEEKER | “Where did the Indians go?” continues to be a commonly asked question from first time visitors to this area. The White River Utes were removed to a desert reservation from their homeland in 1879 after Indian Agent Nathan Meeker and the other men working with him were killed. It was not long after troops were called to the Indian agency that the soldiers decamped from their “Camp on the White River” and sold adobe buildings which were part of the old fort barracks to settlers.
The first efforts to bring members of the Northern Utes back to their homeland included a handmade banner which welcomed members of the Ute Indian Tribe from Fort Duchesne, Utah. The sign—decorated with children’s signatures and handprints—said it all, “Welcome Friends.” It was an emotional gathering for all of the participants and included 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. It 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 that both tribal members and community members were attempting to get to know each other, as well as to be open to a continuing relationship in the coming years. Expressing fear about visiting the place of their ancestors, quite a few of the tribe 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. Before the Ute reservation was opened 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 killing of the Indian agent and the males who worked for him, as well as the battle at Milk Creek that sparked the removal of the Utes from their ancestral lands, one is left 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.
By DOLLY VISCARDI | Special to the HT