A familiar face has returned as chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, and he is joined by two new younger members on the Tribal Council.
Clement Frost was sworn in Monday as Tribal Chairman. Joining him on the podium are two new council members, Amy Barry and Tyson Thompson.
"It is a good day today," Barry said, noting that she is part of a new generation providing input onto the council. "We will not lose the sight of who we are in our heart."
Thompson, who also is a member of the tribe's Yellow Jacket Drum Group that performed at the inauguration, said he will do his best as a new council member and thanked tribal members in attendance for their support.
The two new council members spoke to the crowd entirely in English. Frost addressed the crowd of 300 in Ute before switching to English.
"Thank you for your trust and respect," he told those attending. Frost announced that Mel Baker will stay on as vice-chairman, and Michelle Olguin will serve as the tribe's executive officer. Baker had stepped in as interim chairman after the death in the spring of Chairman Jimmy Newton.
Frost said he wants to continue a new home loan program for tribal members that has been started. He also wants to support the new tribal health director to ensure better medical care for tribal members.
Frost also said he wants to promote the ceremonies, spiritual values and spiritual ways of the tribe, in part to discourage drug and alcohol abuse among members.
Drugs "are not the strength of our people," he said. "They are the gadgets of amusement." Children need to be raised as better leaders, and tribal members need to be honored for their wisdom, he added.
Tribal elections were held on Friday. Frost won the chairmanship with 282 votes, while Joycelyn Dutchie garnered 203 votes.
Among the four candidates for tribal council, Thompson had the most votes with 281, followed by Barry with 232. Janelle Doughty received 212 votes, followed by incumbent council member Aaron Torres with 189, according to Christine Sage, the secretary of the tribal election board.
At the end of the ceremony, longtime councilman Howard Richards Sr., who also has served as Tribal Chairman, looked back on his 27 years of service to the tribe. At 65, he said he needs rotator cuff surgery and is retiring from the tribal council for health reasons. He remembered in 1991, he looked at the tribe's bank balance of $80 million.
"We were a poor tribe," he remembered. "We are now among the wealthiest in the world," with an AAA credit rating, which surpasses the U.S. government's rating of AA, he noted with a chuckle.
"How did we get there?" he asked. "We were making change."
The wisdom of past tribal leaders in creating the Southern Ute Growth Fund preserved the tribe's resources for the future, he said.
"I gave it my best shot," he said, noting that his success as a chairman and tribal councilor will be debated by future tribal members, "and that's OK."
Baker said as vice chair, he wants to continue working on the Animas-La Plata Project and helping get some of its water to the Ute Mountain Ute tribe in Towaoc.
"Those are our treaty rights," he said. "That's our water." He said he wants to see the Southern Utes and Ute Mountain Utes work together on other issues, as well, including housing and drug abuse.
Several entities had representatives at Monday's event, including the Ute Mountain Ute and Northern Ute Tribes, the Jicarilla Apache Tribe, La Plata County and City of Durango.
"May the great-grandfather watch over your leadership," said Annette Martinez of the Jicarilla tribe.