Ute leader alleges wrongdoing in Glenwood Springs’ Yampah cave ban
A Ute tribal member who has been a fixture of the Yampah Vapor Caves in Glenwood Springs is no longer welcome at the site after a dispute over a September anniversary event.
Kenny Frost, a spiritual leader of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe who has conducted regular ceremonies in the vapor caves for at least 20 years, said he was wrongfully banned from the sacred location.
However, Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves co-owner Dave Anselmo said he has the right not to allow Frost on his property, and that the Ute leader was disrespectful to those gathered for the September event.
The disintegration of the relationship between Frost and Anselmo began after the Big Birthday Bash celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Hotel Colorado and the Yampah caves Sept. 15. The event was supposed to feature Ute dancers and drum performers, arranged by Frost, as advertised in promotional material for the event.
But the dancers didn’t make it due to a family emergency, and Frost brought on stage several Ute Mountain Tribe members who spoke on wide-ranging Native American issues, and the history of Utes in the area, for more than an hour. Among the speakers was Ute Mountain Tribe Chairman Ronald Cuthair and several councilwomen.
The following Monday, Sept. 17, Anselmo called Frost and informed him that he was no longer welcome at the vapor caves.
For Frost, who was influential in bringing the leaders of the three Ute tribes together in the 1990s for the first powwow in Glenwood Springs, the banishment indicates subtle racism. After waiting more than a month, Frost contacted the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, as well as Carbondale public radio station KDNK, which aired an interview with Frost on Tuesday.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, Frost wrote that his ban from the caves stems from hatred and anger.
Anselmo told the Post Independent that the ban had nothing to do with the Utes as a people, but instead was about Frost not following through on what he promised for the event, and not giving adequate notice when the performers were unable to make it.
“He didn’t fulfill anything that he had promised” for the event, Anselmo said. The event organizers, who were committed to having the Ute nation involved, were not aware that the dancers were not going to show until they were supposed to be on-stage, according to Anselmo.
Frost explained in an email to the Post Independent that the dancers and the singers were a family. The Friday before the Saturday performance, their father had a heart attack, according to Frost, and it was impossible to replace the group.
To Anselmo, Frost should have informed the organizers that the dancers wouldn’t be available well before the event.
“We called Kenny 10, 15 minutes before the performance, and Kenny continued to lie to us: He just didn’t know how many dancers were going to show up,” Anselmo said. “He could have told us right then and there that everything fell apart, and we have nothing for you.”
The ban on himself and his family is complicated, Frost said, because he says he is related to the entire Ute nation. “When (Anselmo) says your relatives are banished, that means the whole Ute nation is banished.”
Anselmo denied that any other members of the Ute nation were banned, just Frost and his family.
“We have announced it to the Ute nation that the only person who is really banned is Kenny and his immediate family,” Anselmo said. “It’s not the whole Ute nation, no matter what Kenny says.”
Frost said being banned reminds him of what happened to the tribes long ago when they were sent to Indian reservations. “And it’s a sad part of American Indian history that that’s happened over and over and over and is still happening today,” Frost said.
“We have federal laws that say we can go worship in our sacred places, and that’s part of our rights,” Frost said, adding that he has approached tribal council members about the possibility of bringing federal charges. The Southern Ute Tribe did not return a request for comment by press time.
Because Frost is banned from the property, Anselmo said he would find another member of the Ute nation to conduct traditional sweats in the caves.
A representative for the Hotel Colorado, which co-hosted the September anniversary event, said Frost’s ban from the Vapor Caves does not reflect Glenwood Springs’ relationship with the Ute tribes or with Frost.
“I don’t know what really went on, or what is the conflict with the vapor caves, but I hope it doesn’t blow up,” Norman Bacheldor, managing member of the Hotel Colorado, told the Post Independent.
“It’s important that we have the presence of the ancestors of the land,” Bacheldor said. “I hope (Frost) feels free to come back any time, many times.”
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During what turned into a 30-minute conversation that got heated Tuesday night, Aspen Mayor Torre voiced his frustration with the city manager’s office in not putting together a community event sooner than the first of the year, while Councilwoman Rachel Richards said some of the mayor’s frustrations and comments were “unfounded.”