Chief Ah-Tave calls on Aspen leaders to appreciate mountains
December 14, 2016
Before members of Aspen City Council dove into Monday's marathon meeting devoted mainly to land-use issues, they got a stark reminder of how significant their surroundings are to a decorated Native American.
"We all need to remember that the mountains keep giving, they keep giving and giving and giving," Roland McCook, also known as Chief Ah-Tave, told the council. "They are your livelihood."
A full-blooded Ute, Chief Ah-Tave is a descendant of Chief Ouray and Chipeta. He carried the Olympic torch through Aspen in 2002. He has served as vice president of the Smithsonian Institution's Repatriation Act Review Board and is widely regarded as an expert on the Ute tribe.
Ah-Tave, wearing traditional Ute clothing, attended the meeting as part of the City Council's proclamation recognizing Monday as International Mountain Day and expressing "our concern for the preservation and promotion of diversity and identity in Aspen as well as mountain communities around the world," Mayor Steve Skadron declared.
In October 2010, the city became the first municipality to gain entry into the United Nations Mountain Partnership, which currently includes 57 mountain-based countries and 200 global members.
The organization's mission statement reads, in part, that it is a "vibrant voluntary alliance of governments and organizations committed to working together with the common goal of achieving sustainable mountain development around the world."
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Chief Ah-Tave called on Aspen visitors and residents not to take their surroundings for granted, and to appreciate them for their spiritual, ecological and environmental traits.
"The mountaintops are your watershed," he said. "They feed the valleys below. The impact is so significant to our lifestyle, and the mountains lured you here. That's why we're all here — to live amongst these mountains, and my people took only what they could take, and now I ask you to remember those people."
The chief concluded his remarks speaking in his native tongue, to which Skadron replied: "What did you say? What did you tell us?"
Replied the chief: "I just said I am pleased to be here with the leaders of this community, the mayor and the council members, addressing people here in this room and being serious about what takes place amongst these mountains. … It means much more than looking at these mountains and saying they're 'beautiful.' They give to us."
Skadron told the chief that of the council's agenda items for the night would be a discussion about city laws regarding view planes.
"No man-made development should obscure the vision of our mountains," the mayor said. "We have employees who ensure that that principle is preserved. In your words, we are caretakers of these mountains and should acknowledge them and give thanks. … I hope we are doing our part in embodying the principles you speak of."
Shortly later, members of the council stood with the chief for a group photo, and the matters shifted to talks about regulating chain stores in Aspen, special-use permits for two downtown businesses, the Gorsuch Haus hotel proposal and land-use code revision items.