The history of the Ute Indians goes back to times unknown. They were a powerful people with a heritage of nomadic living that predates the Navajo in this region. The Ute Mountain Ute reservation is located on the Colorado corner of the 4 Corners, with Navajos on the Arizona, Utah and New Mexico corners.
The Utes offer guided tours of the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, the southern neighbor of Mesa Verde National Park. When Euro-Americans decided to form the National Park, the Utes told them that, if they really want to preserve the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) ruins, they should just leave the land in the property of the Utes, because their tribe had kept the ruins in pristine, unpillaged condition for hundreds of years already. In truth, when you visit the Tribal Park, you can see artifacts on the ground where they have lain for centuries—unlike our sterilized, collected and curated National Park. At the Tribal Park, you can still climb into the Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings to view from the perspective of those who lived there 800-1,000 years ago.
When the West was “settled”, the Utes were assorted onto several reservations. The Southern Utes (south central Colorado) and the Ute Mountain Utes (southwestern Colorado) each have casinos among other income-producing businesses to assist the tribe members. The White Mesa Utes on a small reservation in southeastern Utah have little to sustain their members. They are the descendants of the participants of the “Last Indian War” and proudly inform you that they never did sign a peace treaty. One of the esteemed leaders of this tribe, Aldean (Lightning Hawk) Ketchum was the first flute player in the opening ceremony of the Salt Lake City Olympics. He is an imposing figure of a man with a friendly, gentle voice. Kelly Place is proud that Aldean and his Navajo wife Wanda offer programs here to visitors, not just of flute music, native dress and dance, but more importantly of stories. The stories from their lives give us an indication of how their heritage has shaped them and the unique point of view and values given by their cultures.