Ute tradition back in Aspen | AspenTimes.com
Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

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Ute tradition back in Aspen

The word "Ute" is not simply a street name or a store found in Aspen. It represents hundreds of years of spirit, tradition and culture, a group of strong and proud people that returned to Aspen on Saturday.

Through song and dance, Northern and Southern Utes — joined by members of the Hopi, Cree and Paiute tribes — reminded hundreds of people gathered along the Cooper Avenue pedestrian mall of the culture that pervaded Colorado until 1891. That year, the federal government removed and relocated the tribe to reservations in Utah.

According to the tribe, what once was 4.5 million acres is now about 1.2 million acres that 3,200 members live on today in Fort Duchesne. One of those members is Kerry Cesspooch, whose mother, Loia Arrum, helped found the Aspen Ute Foundation, the nonprofit that benefited from Saturday's performance. Cesspooch said her mother, who died of cancer less than a year ago, sought to bring awareness to Colorado communities. It was her wish to nurture the Ute spirit, Cesspooch said, and remind people that Ute ancestors existed here and the tradition continues today.

"I feel good coming here. I feel really happy," Cesspooch said. "I hope each and every one of you have a good day, and I pray that you see something good that makes your heart feel happy, and whatever you have in your mind that it will be released here in a good way. If you're not feeling well, something here will heal you and bring you many years on this Earth."

One of Saturday's performers was Roland McCook, or Chief Ah-Tave, a descendant of Chief Ouray and Chipeta. McCook introduced men, women, teenagers and toddlers of various Native backgrounds. There were grass dancers, fancy dancers, hoop dancers, traditional dancers, jingle dancers and chicken dancers. Looking at his fellow tribesmen and their traditional dress, McCook described their outfits as regalia.

"They're not costumes," McCook said. "A costume is something you wear during Easter or Halloween. It's something that you're not, and this is what we are."

He reminded the crowd that the Utes are still functioning, still alive and carrying on their tradition and culture in Utah. He also detailed the history of the Utes, their removal and the effort to commemorate their ancestry.

"We don't perform just to perform. We do these dances for ourselves. We do them for tribal people, for ourselves, so that we feel good when we do this," McCook said.

Aspen's Col. Dick Merritt also was in attendance, as the group observed America's veterans and their families.

The Aspen Ute Foundation is an Amercian Indian Cultural program that was started by Deanne Vitrac-Kessler in March 2005 under the guidance of Arrum. The foundation accepts donations at http://www.aspenutefoundation.org.

herk@aspentimes.com