Ernest House Jr. (left), executive secretary of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, and Lt. Gov. Joseph Garcia, CCIA chairman, at a meeting of the Native Caucus, Colorado General Assembly.

Language Plan and Tribal Efforts Praised

Carol Berry
3/9/12

The bipartisan Native American Caucus of State Legislatures in Colorado has given its support to a bill that would promote Native language learning in the state’s public schools by employing people fluent in languages of federally-recognized tribal nations.

There was discussion of the bill in a caucus meeting March 7 convened by the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA). Members also proposed formal recognition for the economic and other achievements of Colorado’s two tribal nations, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

The Native language proposal was first introduced by Sen. Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora), a member of the Comanche Nation, to allow the language-speakers to teach under the supervision of qualified instructors and to receive a waiver from the Colorado Department of Education to exempt them from formal certification.

The Native language program would be easy to replicate, she said, expecting that it “will be used by the Ute people who want to teach the Ute language to their children in school. This is a big step.”

“If the language dies, so does the culture” was the consensus of Natives and others who supported the proposal, Williams said. The measure passed the state senate unanimously and is headed for the state house of representatives for consideration.

Jimmy Newton, Southern Ute chairman, said Ute language learning is allowed in the school district that includes Ignacio, headquarters of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. Ute 101 has been offered and now Ute 102 is available for students. “We’re taking a real hard look at this in preserving the language,” he said.

The caucus touched on other issues that represent tribal revitalization to counter the charge that people “only hear the bad stuff” about tribes,” said Bradley Hight, Ute Mountain Ute Tribal vice chairman.

For example, the Ute Mountain Utes’ Weeminuche Construction Authority has been named 2011 Tribal Enterprise of the Year by the National Center of American Indian Enterprise Development, and its Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Farm & Ranch Enterprise was named first in Colorado and third in the U.S. in the 2012 National Corn Growers Association annual yield contest.

The Southern Utes’ vast real estate holdings that include major investments in the Denver area’s Belmar mixed-use city center and  downtown Spire luxury lofts, as well as the tribe’s position as a major employer in southwestern Colorado, were also noted.

Lt. Gov. Joseph Garcia, who heads the CCIA, said legislators and tribal leaders will work with Ernest House Jr., CCIA executive secretary, to craft a tribute or resolution to recognize the tribes’ economic contributions to the state.

Besides Williams, Native Caucus members include Sens. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo), Lucia Guzman (D-Denver), Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) and Irene Aguilar (D-Denver); and Reps. Don Coram (R-Montrose), Edward Casso (D-Thornton) and J.Paul Brown (R-Ignacio).

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