Northern and Southern Utes
Ute legends tell the story of Sinauf, a god who was half man, half wolf, and his brothers, Coyote and Wolf. Their powers were in balance before humans were created, who were then charged with caring for the world. These myths are the anchors of the Utes spiritual and physical relationships with all living things.
The Utes are thought to have arrived in the Great Basin territory around 500 A.D., absorbing preexisting Fremont culture. They became the largest group in the area over the next 500 years, eventually forming 12 separate Bands throughout Utah and Colorado, stretching from Fillmore in Central Utah to Colorado Springs, from Wyoming to New Mexico.
Utes read the stars and the land and followed the seasons, moving to deserts and valleys during the winter and mountains in the summer. They became noted hunters and traveled more widely after the arrival of horses during the 1600s.
The Southern Utes probably split from the Southern Paiutes about four hundred years ago. Although their languages remained very similar, the Utes developed new technologies, religious traditions and social structures.
Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation
In 1934, three Bands — Uintah, White River and Uncompahgre — under the Indian Reorganization Act, formed the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, east of Salt Lake City in the Uintah Basin. The busiest part of these lands is Fort Duchesne.
Ute Mountain Ute Tribe
In 1940, the Weeminuche Band adopted a tribal constitution to become the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe with a reservation in the Four Corners region. The Weeminuche’s traditional homelands had stretched east to the Continental Divide and west to the Abajo Mountains, with other Ute Bands and tTribes sharing border areas.
White Mesa Community
The White Mesa people descend from the Weenuche Band of the Southern Utes. The Weenuche Band lived in an area bounded by the Dolores, Colorado, and San Juan rivers, but traveled throughout the Great Basin, Colorado Plateau and into the Great Plains.
In 1938, Utes filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government claiming losses from the dispossession of their homeland, and in the 1950s, Utes from all areas won a series of legal battles and received financial reparations.
Starting in the 1950s, the Utes began to build houses on native-owned land 11 miles south of Blanding, now known as White Mesa. Residents established community programs, such as educational programs, a cattle company and a store, but face the challenges of being nearly 80 miles away from tribal headquarters in Tawaoc, Colorado.
Sources: Clifford Duncan, “The Northern Utes of Utah,” from “A History of Utah’s American Indians,” the Utah American Indian digital archive, and Ute, Ute Mountain and White Mesa tribal websites.