Southern Utes Drum up Rich History at Cultural Center

When a tribal group has only 1,300 members half of whom are under the age of 30, their history and ancestry become essential to living an authentic traditional life. That’s what the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum in Ignacio does. It keeps traditions alive and mesmerizes visitors from all over the world. You’re watching the Local News Network, brought to you by the Payroll department and Tafoya Barrett and Associates. I’m Connor Shreve. The Cultural Center is an iconic state-of-the-art museum that gives voice to the Southern Ute, preserving their story so that future generations will know what it means to be Ute while also promoting regional tourism and educating visitors about their vibrant culture. The 54,000 square foot facility hosts the tribe’s collection of more than 1,500 artifacts. Opened in 2011 at a cost of $38 million, it was designed by renowned Native American architect, John Paul Jones. The modern building’s motif is based on the circle of life, a theme central to Ute life.

So dead in the middle of the building you’re going to see this comb shaped kind of formation. That’s a representation to the but if you stand outside, it looks as though it’s wrapping a shawl around a woman’s shoulders and that’s a nod to our bear dance. If you are to look upwards way at the top of that TP formation, you will see that we have what is kind of known as our circle of life. You can call it a medicine wheel but within Native American cultures that color palette might be the same that we have up there. Might be different, that black might be blue, but in Ute culture, this is our circle of life. It represents the four stages of your lifecycle, the four cardinal directions and of course your four seasons.

The museum’s permanent gallery calls up the personal story of the Ute people from pre-history to modern times. It’s presented through photographic curtains, audio-visual presentations, and life-size replicas, including a buffalo hide, tep, cabin and schoolroom. In the temporary gallery, a retrospective of revered tribal artist Russell Bach Sr. was being hung on the day of our visit.

I just think it’s really nice to be able to show a compendium of works of an artist. You don’t really get a chance to do that in this line of work, especially while the artist is still with us. And so for me, it’s a big honor to do this on behalf of him and as an elder, as a veteran, as one of the spiritual leaders for the tribe.

The museum begins its season at the end of May, with the Southern Ute Bear Dance celebration and ends it with an annual Southern Ute Tribal Fair and powwow in late September. In the meantime, an oral history lab will soon be offered along with a program called Native Ute Express, a kids’ art class.

We’re also having an art market this summer. This is our second annual art market and it’s a Native art market, so only Indigenous folks are allowed. There’ll be a juried show and big cash prizes and we’re hoping to have some bans. So let’s stay up to date on what we’re doing out here.

When the US government confined Ute people onto different reservations in Colorado and Utah, it forced their division into today’s Southern Ute, Northern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute Tribes. The Southern Ute Tribe is headquartered just north of Ignacio with a reservation that spans more than 680,000 acres. To learn more about this and other stories go to Thank you for watching this edition of The Local News Network. I’m Connor Shreve.

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