The public discussion of oil and gas leases in the northern HD Mountains seems, so far, to have proceeded in a certain vacuum, with the main affected party strangely absent. So, just to set the record straight: The northern part of the HD Mountains was stolen from the Southern Ute reservation and later turned over to the BLM/Forest Service. It still falls within the external boundary of the reservation, sticking out like a sore thumb.
The entire HD range, but especially the northern heights, has always been sacred to the Southern Ute people. First, according to elders no longer with us, the Ute Bear Dance originated in the HDs, where two wandering Ute brothers met a she-bear who taught them the ceremony, designed to celebrate the awakening of the Earth in the spring (late April). The traditional Ute name for the HDs is kwiyagha-tu--paa-tu-: “place of the bear.”
The HD Mountains were also where Ute warriors used to go on their spiritual vision-quests and fast – the precursor to the Ute Sundance. When the Sundance was revived in the mid-1950s, the Sundance ground was moved to its present location near the river. This was not done by accident or whim. The Ute Sundance corral opens to the east, directly facing the northern HDs. When the dancers chant the four sunrise prayer songs, three mornings in a row during the July Sundance, the sun bursts out directly above the rim of the northern HDs, traditionally designated as tava-mawisivee-tu-: “place where the sun rises.”
Violating the HDs with oil and gas rigs is not only tampering with Mother Earth and despoiling our environment; it is also grave sacrilege, trashing a sacred ground, akin to despoiling a church. It is also, lastly, a slap in the face of the Ute people.
Pearl Casias, former Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council chairwoman