Carbondale celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Around 40 people gathered in Sopris Park on Monday to participate in Carbondale’s first Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration.
Ute tribal members came to lead traditional dances and drumming, sharing their culture with those gathered.
Ute elder Roland McCook noted that similar celebrations in rural towns have hundreds of people in attendance.
“This is the least amount of people that I’ve seen at a gathering in a rural area,” McCook said.
“In Buena Vista, I had 200 people show up. In Salida, (the crowd was) out the door; in Paonia, out the door,” McCook said.
The event wasn’t announced until early October, shortly after Carbondale trustees passed a resolution Sept. 24 recognizing the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
McCook didn’t assign blame, but said that those who have roots in rural life are more likely to be interested in the native history of the land than people who recently arrived, McCook said.
McCook talked for an hour and answered questions about Native American history and Ute culture.
The term “Ute” comes from Spanish sources, but it is not the word Ute tribes use to describe themselves.
“Our name for ourselves is Nuche,” pronounced “nooch,” McCook said.
“We have different interpretations for what that means, but generally, it means people. It refers to us as people of dignity, people of feelings, those mysterious feelings that come, the same as you, from the heart,” McCook said.
Several native dancers and two musicians led the group in songs and dances.
“You’re listening to music and drum beats that are original,” McCook said, introducing singers and dancers who led the group in traditional songs.
“When we sing, it’s like when you hum. When you hum your song and leave the words out, that’s what we do,” McCook said.
The pattern the singers use mirrors the mountains, starting high, and moving down in pitch like streams into the valleys, McCook said.
Celebrating the Nuche
Carbondale residents John Hoffman and Rita Marsh hope that in years to come, the town will celebrate Nuche Day.
“If Carbondale carries it forward, we’ll look at it as Nuche Day along with Potato Day and Dandelion Day. It will help us think in those terms of the indigenous relationship with the planet,” Hoffman said in an interview.
Marsh and Hoffman petitioned the town of Carbondale to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Boulder, Denver and Durango declared the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2016, and Aspen recognized it in 2017.
That date has significance as the time when the U.S. traditionally celebrates Christopher Columbus, the first Italian colonialist who arrived in the Americas in the late 15th century.
For Hoffman and Marsh, celebrating indigenous peoples also has an environmental purpose.
“The planet is going through some really radical changes right now,” Hoffman said.
“We treat our planet like our slave, and figure it can take anything we can throw at it. And it is affected by that. One thing indigenous peoples do is feel gratitude for the planet. They live their lives around sustainable parameters that would carry the planet along as a healthy, living being,” he said.
Marsh and Hoffman also run the Roaring Fork Circle, a loosely organized group that meets during full moons to celebrate nature. They were instrumental in naming Nuche Park south of town to honor the Ute tribes, and hope to announce further development of the park later this year.
McCook expressed his support for increasing gratitude for the natural world.
“It takes community strength, community awareness, and I will be right in the middle of it if you give me a chance,” McCook said.
Carbondale trustee Marty Silverstein, who attended the celebration, said it was good to recognize the history of the Nuche in the valley and their environmental message regardless of the number of people who came to the lightly publicized event.
“I think we did the right thing, and if we continue to do it, the turnout will grow,” Silverstein said. “Sometimes you do something because it’s the right thing to do, whether the turnout is 100 people or 30 people.”
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The Roaring Fork Valley has, by-and-large, avoided the mountain pine beetle and spruce beetle infestations that have decimated parts of the state. However, a 2019 aerial survey showed the Roaring Fork watershed has an outbreak of Douglas-fir and western balsam beetles.