On the first day of our expedition we drove to Montrose Colorado where there is a museum dedicated to the Ute tribes of the United States. During this trip we are focusing a lot of our education on learning about the native people of America and this was stop number one. The Ute Indian Museum was a collaborative effort, put together by the three tribes of the Ute Nation. Elders from each tribe helped design the layout of the museum as well as contributed authentic artifacts for the impressive exhibits. The museum was small but informational, with the exhibits filled with real artifacts, instead of remade things like most museums that we are used to. The museum is built on Chief Ouray’s ranch and includes the burial site of Chipeta, the wife of Ouray, on the grounds. Ouray was the chief chosen by America government to represent the Ute tribes and was one of the final leaders of that sovereign nation. After the tour inside the museum we were able to walk outside and see these historic landmarks, which we visited for a short while. The museum focused on how the Ute tribe shrunk in 40 years due to White settlements but how, in the hands of Ouray, the Ute’s were able to preserve much of their culture.
I was most intrigued by the final part of the museum where it talks about the tribes today, and how they continue to celebrate old customs, such as the bear dance and beading. I was also interested to learn that Native American’s are likely to serve in the military due to, what the museum host described as, their “warrior spirit.” We also were able to watch a movie as part of our museum tour. The movie was about the Ute tribe and described how they lived in the mountains and knew their land like the back of their hand. This intimate knowledge of the land in their territory allowed them to be able to travel easily through the mountains and these old trails they created are now many of the highway systems we follow in Colorado to this day. The movie also talked about how they lost a far bit of their culture when they where forced to go to boarding schools. These schools were on the other side of the country where they weren’t allowed to speak their language or practice their customs. In those schools they were forced to learn English and practice Christianity.
Although the museum is largely about the fall of the Ute tribes the message that most stuck with me was an idea at the end of the museum that stated, “We are still here.” The history of the Utes was not that long ago and they want people to know that they are still here and that it is our job to stop ignoring their existence and their history.