By Christina Freeman
Native Homage: A participant at the Smoking River PoWow, in Meeker, where members of many Native American tribes gathered. Ute exhibit at Tread of Pioneers Museum
By Bo Hall
Steamboat Springs, CO - IN A TOWN THAT PRIDES ITSELF on its Western roots, it’s easy to see how cowboy stories could drown out the voices of the area’s earliest inhabitants. “Enduring Voices: Celebrating the Ute People of the Yampa Valley,” an exhibit on display at the Tread of Pioneers Museum, is a courageous attempt to restore that voice. “Our biggest concern was how to bring the voice and the spirit of Northern Ute people out in the exhibit,” says exhibit curator Katie Adams. “We didn’t want to make it a static, third-person narrative about a people.”In many ways, “Enduring Voices” is a project 40 years in the making. The majority of the Ute artifacts on display were originally donated to the museum by Richard Pleasant in 1969, and the exhibits committee has listed the Ute project as a priority for the last 15 years. “I spent more than a year establishing contacts with Ute Tribe elders,” says Adams. “I also worked with the Smithsonian and The Museum of Northwest Colorado in Craig.” Adams stressed the importance of presenting a historically factual narrative that is fully supported by the Ute people. Seven members of the Ute tribe were present at the grand opening and gave the exhibit their full blessing.
Museum director Candice Bannister says that while part of their objective was to look at the Ute people’s history, even more important was that they be presented as a “living culture, using their own voice.” The Ute tribe holds its oral traditions in the highest regard, so quotes from several different tribal members are prominently displayed above placards tracing Ute history. Listening stations allow visitors to hear the unique language of the Ute people and audio-visual stations feature Northern Ute tribe members speaking and performing the traditional Bear Dance.
“Enduring Voices” is designed with kids in mind, too. Coyote, mink and beaver pelts can be touched and compared, and an interactive game teaching sacred words is placed at children’s eye level. The exhibit will be on display through May 2011. The Tread of Pioneers Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors over 62, and $1 for kids 6-12. Kids under 6 are free, as are Routt County residents with I.D.