It is believed that the Ute have been in this area for ten thousand years, which establishes them as far back as the Archaic-Desert culture, and were first "discovered" in the Four Corners region in the 1500's. The Ute Mountain Utes and their cousins, the Southern Utes in Ignacio, are the only tribes remaining in Colorado today.
Southern Utes Ute Mountain Utes Bear Dance Sundance

The Utes speak a Shoshonean language, which is part of the Uto-Aztecean language family, but became distinct from it in about the year Zero. The Hopi are strongly tied to the Utes by this language.

Also of the Shoshonean language group are Bannocks, Comanches, Chemehuevi, Goshutes, Paiutes, and of course Shoshones.

A Ute story is told of a time when hunters came across some small people who ran into the rocks in the hills. The hunters returned to tell the elders and were informed that these were the cliff-dwelling people. Those people are today known as the Hisatsinom or "ancient ones," which are the ancestors of the Hopi. These are the people the Navajo call the Anasazi, which is a referral to them as their ancient enemies.

Pictures in the photo album of Chaco Canyon will give you an idea of the size of these people.

Bear Dance

The annual Ute Bear Dance in June is social and honors the grizzly bear, who was created by Sinawaf, the One-Above, to teach the Ute strength, wisdom, and survival, and to resist the mischief of Coyote. The dance is to awaken bear, and he will lead the people to gather roots, nuts, and berries. During this four-day festival the women choose partners, and this often leads to courtship and marriage.

The origin of the bear dance is told this way. Two brothers were hunting in the mountains and stopped to rest. One of the brothers saw a bear clawing and singing as he danced around a tree. As one brother went on to hunt the other watched the bear, who taught him the dance and the song. The bear told him to teach this to his people as a sign of respect for the bear's spirit which gives strength.

The Annual Ute Bear Dance was held in the spring at the first sound of thunder; about the middle of March. But preparation was made all winter: around the campfires the story teller told tales of the way of life and the singers practised songs which had come in dreams.

As the time came near the men prepared the Bear Dance corral and did other necessary work, while the women made the family's clothes for the dance. The bands would come and set up camp.

After a long winter the festivities began. The men and women would enter the corral wearing plumes that signified their worries. At the end of the dance on the fourth day, the plumes would be hung on a cedar tree at the east entrance of the corral and they would leave their troubles behind.

Cameras are allowed for this social dance, but it is always a good idea to get permission when coming onto any of the reservations.

The Ute Sundance

From the editor: There is no way that I can capture the full meaning of the Sundance with my words, so I will keep this to a minimal description.

This most important of the Ute spiritual ceremonies takes place once a year, and is a quest for medicine power that is personal between the Sundancer and the Great Spirit. The dancer must be commanded, sometimes in a dream, to take part in this ceremony that bonds the Utes.

Preparation begins with tagu-wuni: "standing thirsty." This is a four day fast from both food and liquids, and is done inside the Sundance lodge, along with ceremonies and dancing.

The Sundancer represents not only himself, but his family and the community. Their presence reminds him that though he is the receiver of the "medicine power," and it can be used for personal gain, the Great Spirit is the source, and the true purpose is to share.

This ageless ceremony is both the means to a common bond, and the reminder of the spirituality which bids the Utes together.

A Sundancer describes the Sundance

Research continues and there is much more to learn about all these peoples.
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