Ute Mountain Utes elected Alston Turtle and Selwyn Whiteskunk to the Tribal Council during a well attended election Friday, according to unofficial results.
Sixteen candidates threw their hats into the ring, and the top two vote-getters earned three year terms.
Turtle had the most support, earning 195 votes. Whiteskunk garnered the second-highest tally with 90 votes, winning by just 12 votes over Blair House Sr.
“Thank you for the support. Now it is time to make positive change,” said Turtle, 34, after the victory. “We have a lot of work to do. Are you ready?”
Turtle grew up in Towaoc and has a background in business and customer service. After working in the hotel industry in Albuquerque for many years, he moved back home two years ago and has been working for the tribe as a utility technician.
“I have returned to my roots and look forward to serving the people, hearing their concerns and meeting their needs,” Turtle said in an interview with The Journal.
He credited his listening skills and a “people-friendly, humble” personality for earning the trust of voters. Providing information the public deserves to know was one of his campaign goals.
“I listen to people, and I am open to suggestions on how to move the tribe forward,” Turtle said. “Good communication is the key.”
Whiteskunk has a long leadership background with the tribe and has worked for the tribe’s natural resources department and as a health administrator. He previously served as tribal chairman, and this will be his third term on the Tribal Council.
“Thank you for giving me another opportunity to help lead our tribe,” Whiteskunk said. “I encourage people to participate with the council. We work for you, I got here with your trust, and I will honor that trust. I have been here before. I will use my experience to move the tribe forward.”
Whiteskunk said he wanted to go through an evaluation process with every department to look for ways to improve all tribal operations and financial health. Another goal is to foster more communication between the city of Cortez and Montezuma County.
“We are all one community, and we should work together toward common goals like building the local economy,” he said.
About 70 Ute Mountain Ute tribal members attended the vote count, held in public at the Community Center. As ballot boxes were brought in, the election clerk read off each ballot choice, then another official made a mark on a large white board next to the candidate’s name.
Turtle took an early lead and held on to it. The race for the second open council position was tighter, but Whiteskunk won out in the end. Blair House Sr. was third with 78 votes, and Fernessa Richards was fourth with 74 votes.
The two new council members replace incumbent candidates Marissa Box (42 votes) and Juanita Plentyholes (51 votes), who were seeking a second term.
The other candidates were Lyndreth Hemp Wall (68 votes), Mark Wing (60 votes), Priscilla Blackhawk (54 votes), Angelita Berry (43 votes), Rudy Hammond (35 votes), Travis Morgan (34 votes), Leland Collins (31 votes), Kathryn Jacket (30 votes), Zelda Ute (24 votes), and Carla Snow (14 votes).
About 470 ballots were cast in the election. Turtle and Whiteskunk will be sworn into office in November.