IGNACIO – Southern Ute Indian Tribe elders are mounting a recall effort aimed at the majority of the Tribal Council and its chairman, calling the move a “revolution” to preserve their way of life.
Chairman Clement Frost and five council members have been targeted, including Alex Cloud, Amy Barry, James M. Olguin, Mel Baker and Tyson Thompson. The only member spared from the effort is Ramona Eagle, who is serving a temporary term after replacing Howard D. Richards in a special vacancy election in February.
Recall organizers must collect 275 valid signatures from voting tribal members for each of the six petitions circulating. They have until the end of the month to do so. It was not immediately clear who would replace the council members if the recall effort is successful.
Elders outlined a long list of grievances at an informal meeting last week, including a lack of employment opportunities, poor communication between the council and the tribe and misguided investments, to name a few.
The council’s critics say councilors have failed to prioritize tribal members, instead predominantly hiring non-tribal members for job opportunities on the reservation. They worry that the current council has forgotten the storied history of the Southern Utes, thereby eroding the tribe’s way of life.
“It’s up to the people to decide. ... We are the governing body of the tribal membership,” said Florence Williams, one of the elders participating in the recall effort. “The Southern Ute Tribe itself is a governing body. All council is our spokesperson, our baby sitters.”
The Durango Herald sought comment from the chairman and council members, but a receptionist for Tribal Council Affairs said members were on a retreat. Calls to the council’s legal department went unreturned. A woman called the Herald who identified herself as a council member, but she declined to offer her name and statements for comment. The only woman on council who is being targeted is Barry.
The recall is not the first effort by tribal elders. Contention has existed for many years, with anger lingering. A meeting has been scheduled for Aug. 21, when elders and council members are expected to meet. Elders plan to request that the council form an elders committee to advise the council.
“This is the core of the tribe, the older people, that have the tradition, the culture and the knowledge of our families,” said Renee Cloud, a tribal elder. “This is where we live. This is our reservation.”
Yvonne Tree, another elder, took her frustration one step further, suggesting that the council is biased against its own people by hiring non-tribal members for many jobs.
“We hired individuals who are racist and who want to keep us in submission,” Tree said. “Until we get rid of those people and start standing up and uniting and organizing and getting together to try to take over our tribal government, we’re going to continue to get stepped on.”