Culture is a word loaded with implications.
It affects health and spiritual condition, dictates child rearing and relationships, and impacts how information is passed down through generations, some members of the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes say.
For the Ute nation, the word culture describes countless aspects of life, from the language and spiritual ceremonies, to pivotal life transitions, to everyday crafts, clothing and meals.
For instance, Utes take at least one year to mourn the death of a loved one. And a four-day ceremony held in the summer, called Sundance, is the most spiritual of Ute celebrations.
The driving force behind many of the traditions: Happiness and survival, said Ute Mountain Ute tribal member and cultural artist Norman Lansing.
Take a look to learn more about a few of the many traditions that Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribal leaders and members say make up their culture.
The Sundance is said to be the most spiritually and culturally significant event hosted by the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes.
Often a dream calls one to dance in the ceremony, which involves a four-day fast from food and water while staying inside a ceremonial lodge. The call is for a quest to receive medicine powers through a communion of family and God sometimes called the Great Spirit. The ceremonies involve drums, contemplation, prayer, blessings and somber dancing. And families, who camp outside the lodge, offer prayers, song, drum play and moral support for their loved ones quest.
The summer ceremony lasts four days and is open only to tribal members.
The Southern Ute website says the Sundance tradition of tagu-wuni, or standing thirsty is as old as time for the Utes. The ceremonys survival assures their own survival, it says.
Set around centuries-old lore of a hunters encounter with a bear, the event is a social and spiritual celebration of spring, healing and new beginnings. Despite some changes to the ceremony over the years, most Bear Dance music contains sounds that mimic the sound of a bear clawing rhythmically at a tree.
Ute tribes travel to each others celebrations, which once were used to heal the sick, marry off the young and celebrate the passing of winters hardships. In addition to days of Bear Dancing, which is a ladies-choice dance, tribal members and visitors enjoy food, social events, art fairs and spiritual events. The weekend closes with an endurance-based Bear Dance showdown. The winners prize: bragging rights.
Bear Dances hosted by the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes are open to the public. The Southern Ute tribes next Bear Dance is slated for May 25-28, 2012.
For more information, visit www.southern-ute.nsn.us.
The Ute Mountain Ute tribe will host its Bear Dance in June .
Rites of Passage
Ute women are charged with following several dietary and exercise traditions when pregnant.
The traditions stem from what the ancient Utes discovered improved their survival rates. Modern medicine and science, in many cases, have since supported the practices.
Among the rituals, women are to drink wild raspberry tea throughout their pregnancy. It is said this will strengthen the uterus and help the reproductive system. Morning sickness and insomnia are treated with tea made using wild peppermint. Fish should be eaten regularly and beef avoided. Women also are to rise early each day and remain active throughout their pregnancies.
In the days of yore, Ute women were told red meat made them smell bad to ensure they adhered to the tribe-prescribed diet, said Lynda Grove DWolf, who teaches Ute language and regularly holds cultural workshops for tribal members.
Despite the advent of modern medicine and hospitals, Ute women still face cultural rules in the delivery room.
The rules are said to be a part of the preparation process for the matriarchal and leadership roles that women play both at home and in the tribal social structure.
Women are the foundation of their families and the tribe, Grove DWolf said.
Women should deliver their babies naturally and without pain medications whenever possible. Screaming or moaning during labor and delivery is frowned upon.
Its part of being a Ute woman, said a Southern Ute member and mother who recently attended a cultural workshop about Ute rites of passage but declined to provide her name. Youre supposed to be able to take the pain.
After a baby is born, mothers are ordered to 30 days of solitude with their new child. Diet, hygiene and exercise rules also apply.
The rules are designed to solidify the bonding process between mother and child, force prayer and contemplation over the babys future and encourage good health for the nursing mother and new baby.
During the 30-day period, mothers must rise early and remain active all day. They are to drink warm water, never cold, to prevent blood clotting. A vegetarian diet is required, and fried and sugary foods are prohibited. The woman wears a tight wrap to ensure proper constriction of the uterus and contraction of the stomach muscles. Preening in the mirror is not allowed, nor are expressions of anger. And mothers are to devote the time to prayer and contemplation over the childs future.
You dont go anywhere, DWolf told a group of young women during a cultural workshop about the topic. No Bear Dance and no going into town.
There are specific rules for how a new Ute infant is treated and handled, as well as rules dictating how the mother and other family members interact with the child.
During the first month of life, Ute tradition says that the child has a pure energy and is susceptible to taking on the energy of those it encounters. Thats in addition to a new babys vulnerable immune system. It also is the time when the childs lifelong personality and demeanor is being formed, according to Ute teachings.
The child is not to leave the house or be touched by anyone other than the mother because the baby could absorb others negative energy. Thus, the mother also must carefully restrict her thoughts to ensure no negativity or anger passes to the child. The baby should be bundled regularly in a hand-made cradle board, often make of suede, to create a feeling of security for the child and promote development of a patient demeanor and personality. And the mothers thoughts and activities should be focused on prayer and contemplation over the childs future. Cultural teachings say her specific prayers will be granted.
The mother is molding that child with her thoughts and prayers, DWolf said.
Ute tribal members receive two Indian names in their lifetimes. One is given as a child, and the other is issued when he or she reaches age 50.
The cultural names are said to provide a sense of self-identity belonging within the tribe.
The actual practices and traditions vary among the Ute bands and families. In one version of the naming ritual, the mother chooses a close friend, teacher or family member whom she admires to select the childs name. She offers gifts of tobacco, food, money and small material items when asking. The person chosen to name the child sees this as a great responsibility, with duties akin to that of a godparent in some Christian religions, and spends up to a year studying the childs demeanor and personality before choosing a Ute name most fitting. Then a naming ceremony is held.The mother again offers gifts, and the child learns his or her cultural name. Ute names cannot be passed down or on to others, and careful selection is key.
The name has to fit the person, DWolf said. You wouldnt name a chubby person Willow.