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Ute tribal leaders call for more tribal inclusion in address to state legislature

Lucas Brady Woods
Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Manuel Heart and Southern Ute Chairman Melvin J Baker arrived on the House Floor on January 11, 2023.

For the first time in Colorado history, leaders of the two Native American tribes within Colorado’s borders gathered on the state Capitol floor, Wednesday. Chairman Manuel Heart of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe and Chairman Melvin J Baker of the Southern Ute tribe, addressed a joint session of the state legislature, urging lawmakers to consult with the tribes when crafting legislation. Both chairmensaid historically tribes have been left out of important laws.

“There are times when you legislate that you may not remember there are two sovereign tribes within your borders,” said Southern Ute Chairman Baker. “You may not realize that your legislation may unintentionally appear to affect those living on tribal lands and impinge upon the tribe’s jurisdiction.”

The tribal leaders specifically referred to talks around legalizing sports betting. Colorado legalized sports betting through legislation and a ballot referendum in 2019.

“The Ute Mountain Ute tribe is still not able to participate in online sports betting like every other casino in the state,” said Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Heart. “It is urgent that the state of Colorado understand and respect our position as tribal sovereigns, not as a regulated business entity within the state of Colorado.”

Both tribes called on lawmakers to fix the law to include the tribes.

The chairmen also praised the legislature for the work it has done alongside the tribes. Heart expressed support for two recent bills - one that was passed in 2021 prohibiting Native American mascots in Colorado, and another, passed last year, that created an office to investigate missing and murdered indigenous people.

Both leaders also urged lawmakers to consult the tribes on a number of issues, including water management, preservation of natural resources, energy development, and wolf reintroduction.

I’m the Statehouse Reporter at KUNC, which means I help make sense of the latest developments at the Colorado State Capitol. I cover the legislature, the governor, and government agencies.