Powwow offers chance for ‘both sides’ to come together

BurkheadImageUseThisOneThis weekend’s Smoking River Pow Wow will be a homecoming of sorts.
“I think it’s good to come together as a people who once lived there and the people who live there now,” said Jonas Grant, a descendant of the Utes who were here at the time of the Meeker Massacre.
Grant attended last year’s inaugural powwow. For him, as perhaps it was for many of the Utes who returned to the White River Valley, some for the first time, it was a bittersweet experience.
“I had mixed feelings,” Grant said. “The gesture from the town was very good. It was time to make amends … it was a good beginning.”
Grant lives near the reservation at Fort Duchesne, Utah, where the Ute people have lived since being transplanted from the White River Valley following the Meeker Massacre and the Battle at Milk Creek.
Grant visited the Milk Creek Battle site, east of Meeker, when he was here for last year’s powwow.
“I think it was nice,” he said. “It was appropriate to recognize both sides.”
Grant has learned the history of his family and the Ute tribe as it has been passed down, from generation to generation.
“All of our stories are verbal history,” he said. “My great-great grandmother told me a lot of the things that happened. I really cherish that time when she was here with us to tell me these things.”
When Grant returned to the White River area last year for the first powwow, he felt an attachment to the land where his ancestors once lived.
“I felt an excitement, to know that my family was there,” Grant said. “It was just a good feeling.”
Grant said he was at a Ute encampment in the early 2000s when he met a descendant of Nathan Meeker.
“We shook hands and more or less said that what had happened was in the past, and that we shouldn’t continue the conflict between us,” Grant said. “I gave him an arrow as a peace offering, and he did the same for me.”
That spirit of reconciliation will continue at the Smoking River Pow Wow. Grant’s family members were involved in the events that happened here 130 years ago. His great-great grandmother Susan Johnson was instrumental in securing the release of the hostages, taken by the Utes.
Nathan Meeker’s widow honored Grant’s great-great grandmother in her account of what happened, which she wrote in November 1879.
“We owe much to the wife of (Chief) Johnson. She is (Chief) Ouray’s sister and like him, she has a kind heart. … So long as I remember the tears which this good woman shed over the children, the words of sympathy which she gave, the kindness that she continually showed to us, I shall never cease to respect her …”
This weekend, Grant will honor his ancestors and past generations of Utes who lived in the White River Valley by dancing in the powwow.
“I think it’s a good mending process,” he said, “an understanding between our people and the townspeople (of Meeker).”
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According to some state historians, the Meeker Massacre has a new name.
The Meeker Incident.
Bill Kight, chairman of the Smoking River Pow Wow Committee, said, “That’s the correct way (to refer to the event), according to the Colorado Historical Society.”
Kight said “massacre” is a “pretty loaded word. It’s used when Indians kill white folks, but not the other way around.”
Dave Steinman, also of the powwow committee, said, “Historians are saying what happened at Powell Park (where Nathan Meeker and other Indian Agency workers were killed) was an incident.”
Steinman said the renaming of the event was an “attempt to use a politically correct term.”
“The state historical society is saying it’s appropriate to call it the Meeker Incident,” Steinman said. “If they are talking about what happened at Powell Park and don’t include the other events, then I can see why they would talk about that as an incident. The trouble is that with everything that happened here in 1879, it went beyond an incident. It was an epic. To try to sweep all of what happened here and call it an incident is a gross underestimation of the impact of what happened and shortchanges the importance both to the Utes and to the white settlers.”
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There’s nothing new to report on the proposed road leading to the new Meeker Elementary School, which has some residents of Sulphur Creek upset over the possibility of a roundabout being installed at the intersection of Sulphur Creek and the new road.
“Not yet,” said Town Administrator Sharon Day. “The main focus is trying to find funding to cover the shortfall of receiving partial funding on the energy impact grant. Letters from the mayor and (town) board have been mailed to the school district and the county asking for more participation. There is some discussion continuing on how to make it work for the homeowners, but nothing new to report right now.”
Mayor Mandi Etheridge added, “Once we have the funding, then we decide on a final design and take it out to bid.”
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At the town board’s recent work session to discuss the proposed road to the new school, the school district was represented at the meeting by Superintendent Doug Pfau, Administrative Executive Assistant Susan Goettel, Principal Jason Hightower and School Board President Mary Strang.
“Our original elementary project included the building and its parking lot; a bridge across Sulphur Creek; traffic lanes going south from the parking lot to the bus garage road as a secondary access for school buses and to the west of the parking lot to the new Sulphur Creek bridge/box culvert; and a small amount to pave the dirt part of the existing Ute Road, past the recreation center,” Strang said. “When the existing Ute Road route was abandoned in favor of the new site and these monies weren’t deemed necessary, they were reallocated. They’ve been spent on unforeseen and necessary additional asphalt for Bob Tucker Drive (leading to Barone Middle School). We learned at the last minute that the road base was a lot thinner than expected and unless we added additional asphalt, we would find ourselves repairing Bob Tucker Drive in a few years.
“The bridge/box culvert will cross Sulphur Creek on county property,” Strang continued. “The county has generously said they will deed to the school district this piece of land once the permit for the bridge is in hand. So, essentially, we will have paved to the edge of school district property to the west to connect with a main access to the new school, and paved to the south to our secondary access through the bus garage. Two accesses to the new school have been deemed necessary for emergency preparedness and general safety.”
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Happy belated birthday to Roy McKee, who turned 99 last week. McKee was a longtime cattleman, who homesteaded here after moving from Nebraska.
All the best, Roy.
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I stopped in recently at the BedRock Depot in Dinosaur and not only did Bill Mitchem give me an ice cream cone on the house, which was awfully nice of him, but Leona Hemmerich gave me another food lesson. I always learn something when I stop at the BedRock.
This time, Leona had me try a tomatillo, which is related to the tomato. I had never heard of a tomatillo before, but it was tasty.
“It makes great salsa,” Leona said, adding she’s also made wine out of tomatillo.
“If it’s edible, I can make wine out of it,” Leona said.
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Congratulations to Hyrum Byers of Rangely, who received his Eagle Scout Award Aug. 15, the highest ranking in the Boy Scouts. That’s quite an accomplishment. My dad was an Eagle Scout, but I never made it past Webelos.
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There are three girls playing on the third- and fourth-grade Meeker Mustangs football team, which is a first. They are: Kasia Cochran, Sydnie Main and Megan Shelton.
Other girls playing football I know of are Ohana Mataia, who plays for the eighth-grade football team at Barone Middle School. And at Rangely High School, freshman Holly Lepro is kicking for the varsity.
“I’ve been doin’ Punt, Pass and Kick since like the fifth grade,” Lepro said.
For Tim Galloway, the Panthers’ coach, having a girl on the team is a first.
“I’ve never coached a girl before in my life,” Galloway said. “I know she played last year as an eighth-grader. We’re getting her reps to learn how to tackle. I don’t want her getting hurt. We’re just trying to keep her away from the heavier contact, but she’s indicated that down the line she wants to play. She may play some junior varsity for us.”
You go, girls.
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There was quite a bit of fuss over televising President Obama’s speech to students Sept. 8. But even some of his staunchest critics said afterward the speech was not political, but, basically, a pep talk to students.
Because of technical difficulties, much of the president’s speech wasn’t seen, at least locally.
“The technical difficulties were worse in some rooms than they were in others. The problem in our building was that the stream of video/audio was interrupted multiple times. The issue in the room that I was in was that the stream eventually just stopped completely. I believe we had issues districtwide,” Meeker Elementary School Principal Jason Hightower said. “There could’ve easily been problems for many, many districts, but I don’t know that. I can say that the vast majority of our students either watched or tried to watch the speech.”
Some parents didn’t like the idea of the president’s speech being shown to students. Hightower said “the school received many phone calls from parents concerned about their children watching the speech.”
The district gave parents the choice to “opt out” their children, if they didn’t want them to watch the speech.
“We understand that parents may have differing opinions regarding the appropriateness of this event,” the district said in a message to parents posted on its Web site. “We always honor the values and choices of our parents.”
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At Colorado Northwestern Community College’s Rangely campus, the enrollment for fall semester is up slightly over last year. CNCC’s current enrollment is 401 students, compared to last year’s 398.
“While we have some nontraditional students enrolled for retraining, we don’t get as many as the more urban area colleges,” said Denise Wade, CNCC’s public information officer.
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Rio Blanco County Commissioner Ken Parsons testified before the state Legislature’s Business Personal Property Tax Interim Committee on Aug. 18.
In his remarks, Parsons told committee members, “Rio Blanco County is a geographically large, population small, federal land dominated, extraction industry dependent county in northwestern Colorado. … Our county depends upon Business Personal Property Tax (BPPT) for over 37 percent of its total assessed valuation. Virtually all of this tax is paid by the extraction industry on equipment essential to the removal and processing of natural resource fuels. We are concerned with the potential impacts to local governments and schools that the elimination of this tax would have unless an adequate replacement revenue stream is found prior to its elimination.
“Also, we are concerned with the attitude expressed in earlier testimony that ‘over time local governments will adjust,’ which expresses little concern for the reality that it is considerably easier to cut taxes in Colorado than to increase them. We are hoping for more of a partnership with the business community,” Parsons added.
In summary, Parsons said, “The BPPT is not in and of itself a significant tax burden. The administration may be onerous but the level of taxation is not. Redefining fixtures and streamlining administration might reduce taxpayer concerns while maintaining the tax. Colorado already has a mechanism in HB08-1225, which is reducing the impact of BPPT on many small businesses.”
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Vicky Pfennig’s puppy attracted a lot of attention during Rangely’s Septemberfest activities at Elks Park.
The dog’s name is Rafter, and his great-great-grandfather was The Beast, the junkyard dog in the movie “Sandlot.”
The 4-month-old English Mastiff will grow to weigh more than 200 pounds, she said. That’s a big dog.

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