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MEEKER — What started with a conversation in 1993, and then 12 years later began to take shape as a formal plan, will become reality this weekend.
The first Smoking River Pow Wow will take place Friday and Saturday west of town, on Highway 13, at Ute Park, which is the same site of the Meeker Classic sheepdog championship trials. The event is free, and people are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, but no pets, said Lynn Lockwood of the U.S. Forest Service and one of the organizers.
The family-friendly event will feature ceremonial dances and drumming.
Since this is the first time for the pow wow, Lockwood doesn’t know what to expect as far as attendance, but she said she anticipated “a good turnout.”
“I’m estimating a minimum of several hundred people (participants and spectators),” Lockwood said. “Possibly quite a few more.”
She said the local response has been good.
“The response from local businesses and the community has been outstanding,” Lockwood said.
Bands of the Ute Tribe formerly lived in the White River Valley, but were forcibly removed from the land in the late 1880s, and relocated to a reservation in Utah. They have been there ever since. The Smoking River Pow Wow is an invitation for the Utes to reconnect with the land of their ancestors.
“We want to bring it down to a personal level,” Lockwood said. “To develop that understanding (between the Utes and the residents of Meeker).”
Liz Turner, another one of the organizers, attended a similar event in Glenwood Springs in 1993. It was her first pow wow. While there, she met a Ute and she asked why he didn’t visit Meeker.
“Because I’m afraid,” he said.
The story of Nathan Meeker — the town was named for him — had been passed down, from generation to generation, by members of the Ute Tribe. In 1879, as the Milk Creek Battle was going on, Meeker and 10 other Bureau of Indian Affairs agents were attacked and killed by the White River Utes at the White River Agency just west of Meeker, who resented Meeker for how he treated them.
On Friday morning, Ute elders will visit the site of the Milk Creek Battle.
Turner said the Utes have been understandably cautious in their feelings toward Meeker, but she thinks this will be an important step in re-establishing a relationship between the town and the tribe.
“They’re looking forward to having a lot of fun (during the pow wow),” Turner said. “Their sense of humor is amazing. They laugh a lot.”
Glenn Adams, a district ranger with the Forest Service, played a key role in reaching out to the Utes.
“He started working on a relationship with the Utes in June 2005,” Turner said. “Glenn has worked in other districts where (Native Americans) returned to their ancestral homelands.”
The Forest Service is one of the organizers of the event, along with the Bureau of Land Management, the Rio Blanco County Historical Society and the Meeker Chamber of Commerce.
Members of three Ute tribes are expected to participate in the pow wow.
Back when the Utes lived in the White River Valley, they referred to the White River as the “Smoking Earth River,” because of the white mist that would rise from the water on cool mornings.
The Smoking River Pow Wow begins with an opening ceremony at 5 p.m. Friday. The first grand entry or parade of dancers will be at 7 p.m. On Saturday, there is a first-come, first-served pancake breakfast, hosted by the Masonic Lodge. There will be events at 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday.
For more information, visit www.smokingriverpowwow.com, or call Lockwood at (970) 878-4039.