Banned Ute doesn’t speak for full tribe, officials say
November 1, 2018
The ban of Ute elder Kenny Frost from the Yampah Vapor Caves has angered some, but members of his tribe have cautioned that he does not speak for the Southern Ute people as a whole and that the dispute is strictly between the cave's owner and Frost.
Yampah Spa co-owner David Anselmo banned Frost from the caves Sept. 17, after a dispute over the Sept. 15 Big Birthday Bash celebration for the 125th anniversary of the Colorado Hotel and the Vapor Caves.
Anselmo said Frost promised to provide dancers, drummers and singers as one of the cultural acts at the event but, on the day of the party, Frost showed up with family members and tribal leaders from the Mountain Ute Tribe without telling Anselmo the dancers weren't coming.
In place of the performers, Frost and the other elders spoke for about an hour on Native American history and issues.
Anselmo considered Frost's comments during the speech — including talking graphically about atrocities when the tribes were removed from the valley in the late 19th century — too harsh for a family event, according to an earlier interview with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
Hanley Frost of Ignacio, the culture education coordinator for the Southern Ute Tribe and Kenny's cousin, told the Post Independent that Kenny is not a representative of the tribe.
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While Kenny Frost is an elder and member of the Southern Utes, "the tribe does not recognize him as a historian," Hanley said.
Kenny Frost has been involved with ceremonies at the Yampah Vapor Caves for years, and considers himself a cultural liaison for the Glenwood Canyon area. But that is a role he took upon himself, Hanley Frost said.
"We basically told him, 'You're going to get yourself in trouble, because the tribe does not recognize you as a historian.' So, he has put himself in some hot water, as far as I know."
A spokeswoman for the tribal council did not return a request for comment, but Hanley Frost indicated that the tribe would be communicating with the Yampah Vapor Caves owners in an effort to patch relations. Kenny Frost did not return requests for followup comment Thursday.
Cassandra Kelting of Lakewood, who said she is half Native American with both Hopi and Apache ancestry, has participated in Frost's ceremonies at the caves and said she considered the ban unjust since the area used to be Native American land. She considers Frost to be the natural person to lead Native ceremonies at the caves.
"In our culture, someone is appointed not only tribally but through spiritual means, and that is Kenny," Kelting said.
In a Facebook comment on the Post Independent's story, Anselmo said the Vapor Caves would continue to admit Native Americans with a tribal card at no charge, as the business has done for many years. Anselmo said the company has kept this a secret from the public, but that "tens of thousands" of Natives had visited the caves free over the past 29 years.
"Why bash a business that does this … no other company outside the reservations has a policy like theirs, they've given back so much to America's Native communities," Anselmo said.
Anselmo also stated that Kenny Frost had broken his word and lied, and that he had no official role in the Ute tribe.
"Yampah gave him a title 'Spiritual Leader' to promote the sweats they provide for this community," Anselmo said.
"The action of banning this person is to preserve the sanctity, pure spirituality, and due regard necessary for those who conduct their ceremonies! The rituals will carry on without Kenny Frost," Anselmo said in his post, which came in defense amid several disparaging Facebook comments accusing Anselmo of wrongdoing in the matter.
During his Sept. 15 speech in front of the Hotel Colorado, Kenny Frost also mentioned that the Vapor Caves were free to American Indians, and encouraged young tribe members to travel and learn about the hot springs.
The Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves is now owned by Patsy Steele and Anselmo. The site is known locally as cave No. 3, and was dug by Walter Devereaux in 1892 and first opened to visitors in 1897. The Ute people who lived in the valley before the settlers would travel to the natural hot springs and hot caves in the area.
Regarding the meaning of the vapor caves, "It has a reason beyond just being an archeological or a cultural site. We would consider the whole place to be an ethnographical cultural landscape," Cassandra Atencio, a culture representative for the Southern Ute Tribe, said.
"We consider it to be a ceremonial place, and a cultural property, even though we were removed from the area," she said.