After several days of eye-opening vistas, one of my last stops in the southwestern corner of Colorado was a visit to the Southern Ute Museum and Cultural Center in Ignacio. If only this week held such beauty.
Many years ago I spent a couple of days on the Southern Ute Reservation interviewing a well-known legislator and jewelry designer for a magazine article. At the time, Ignacio seemed like a tiny town. But now, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe stands out for its ability to make money and support various efforts, via plentiful gas on the reservation and proceeds from its casino. In return, the tribe started a radio station quite a few years ago, donated land for Durango to build a new hospital, and to fund a beautifully designed museum and cultural center. (That radio station kept me sane while driving around the area, since it plays interesting music and some shows from NPR.)
The museum design, by Johnpaul Jones, FAIA, of Jones & Jones Architecture of Seattle worked with historic and cultural cues, incorporating forms into the museum. The soaring tipi shape relates to the former tribal homes; the giant poles reflect the pines in the region. But most of all, the museum is flooded with light.
The exhibitions on view include artifacts in the permanent gallery titled “Numi Nuuchiyu: We are the Ute People,” which traces the good times and the bad times when land was taken away, children sent off to boarding school, and watching their language and other cultural tenets fading. The best part of the exhibition opens with recordings of different versions of the Southern Ute creation story.
Also, there are historic photographs in “Nuuchus: A Pictorial Journal,” and a display of uniforms and related objects from Southern Ute veterans.
Perhaps the best part – aside from the beautifully conceived building – was a totem pole created by artists of the Lummi Nation to express concern about the chopping away of parts of land from the Bears Ears National Monument to support drilling and extraction. The totem pole will be at the Southern Ute Museum until the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition finds it a permanent home. Here’s hoping it brings luck to Bears Ears – and restores its land. (Here’s its photo.)
Links lead to the Southern Ute Museum and the Southern Ute tribal history and activities, as well as to the Ute Indian Museum, which contains artifacts from the Utes; it’s located in Montrose.