CRAIG (AP) – In the hush of a crisp dawn, two types of warriors – members of the Northern Ute Tribe and Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin – gathered for a blessing of the land.
“This land is hurting,” said Aletha Dove, a founder of Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin. “Would you please ask for harmony between the people, livestock, wild horses and all living things?”
Hearing her request was Northern Ute elder Rafael Knip and some of the men of his family – Serenus Knip, Bart and Red Heart Powaukee, Leroy Cesspooch, Eagle Manning, Kyrie Duncan and Isaac Sarawop – who circled to play a traditional drum and sing. Some of the women of the family, who didn’t wish to be named, joined their voices in song.
As the sun rose higher and the drummers sang, Rafael Knip stepped to the edge of a bluff overlooking the Little Snake River to pray, while scattering an offering of pure tobacco leaf on the sage-covered earth.
Earlier that morning Bart Powaukee explained what the public would be witnessing.
“This is part of our Sundance Ceremonies. Many of us pray every day. It ties into the land, that we are thankful for the elements and all living things,” he said.
The ceremony often starts before the sun crests the horizon, but on Sunday, May 6, the ceremony started just as the fiery disk had fully emerged.
“We run on Indian time,” quipped Rafael Knip. “And this is Sunday, and we don’t get up that early.”
Northern Ute is a term that comprises several cultural bands, including the White River, Uintah and Uncompahgre peoples, and Moffat County is part of their traditional homeland. The family’s uncle, Clifford Duncan, served as a cultural resource liaison for many years before his death. He encouraged the family to continue their service.
“He told me to tell the truth,” Rafael Knip said. “The sun will never turn its back on you.”
Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin is a newly formed nonprofit that seeks to work with other individuals and organizations to ensure the freedom and safety of the wild horses of Sand Wash Basin.
Individuals belonging to the group invest a great deal of time and money to assist the Bureau of Land Management. They are raising funds for fencing, improvements to water systems and other resources that will benefit all living things in the basin.
“It’s time for the land to have harmony. If we work together, it would make it more peaceful,” Dove said.
She expressed her gratitude to the Northern Utes and said she hopes the prayer ceremony will become an annual tradition.
Rafael Knip did not share the words of his prayer and, as he did not wish to dilute its power. He also asked that no video be taken of the ceremony.
The photographers among the witnesses gathered at a primitive campsite just off Moffat County Road 75 were encouraged to capture the moment in pictures. Some have been shared on facebook.com/wildhorsewarriorsforsandwashbasin.
Before returning to his car to travel to the nearest Denny’s for breakfast, Rafael Knip had one request for anyone visiting the ancestral lands of his people.
“Respect one another. That’s all we ask.”