IGNACIO, Colo. (CBS4) – Ten years in the making, the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum is on the home stretch. Final preparations are under way for the May 22 grand opening.
The building is a fitting monument to Ute people.
“We’re here and we’re always going to be here,” board chairman Robert Burch said. “I want the people to know the Southern Ute tribe, their culture, their history, where they’ve been and where are they going to go.”
Lynn Brittner is executive director of the new museum.
“For a little town like Ignacio, which used to be a best-kept secret, it’s not anymore,” Brittner said.
Brittner explained that the architect for the project also designed the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
“When John Paul Jones, the architect, asked, ‘What kind of museum do the people want?’ And everybody said, ‘We want a round structure.’ We had no idea something like this could be built,” Brittner said.
In the permanent gallery, the heritage of the Ute tribe is celebrated and preserved.
“I’m very proud that we actually have a museum that, all of our traditions and our culture is put into one building so we can share it with the world, so they know what we are about,” Edward Box III said.
Box pointed to photos of his grandfather and his father, both performing a blessing. A rare Ute dress will be on loan from the Smithsonian for several years and a prized possession from the archives will be on display.
“This is a jacket that was worn by Buckskin Charlie, and it was worn in the inauguration parade for Teddy Roosevelt,” Brittner said. “There’s a little picture of Teddy on it.”
Buckskin Charlie was the first chief of the Southern Utes. He drew pictures of his travels to Washington on his jacket.
A drawing from the early 1900s depicts the Ute Bear Dance. The piece was recently found in Boston after a century. It has now been returned home.
“You can listen to stories by tribal elders about the Utes; stories that would’ve been told around winter time, around the fire,” Brittner said.
There’s a replica of a house that shows where Ute people lived after being moved to reservations.
“A lot of people come to Colorado and they come to Mesa Verde and they go on the train in Durango and they have no idea that this is Ute territory,” Brittner said. “So now people can come to Ignacio and come to the Ute Museum and learn about the longest continuous residents of Colorado.”
The “Circle Of Life World-Wide Welcome” grand opening of the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum will be held May 21-22. Check out their website at succm.org for all the details, or call them at (970) 563-9583.
Get to the museum by taking US Highway 160 in southwest Colorado toward Durango and then head south on State Highway 172 to the town of Ignacio. Right next to the new museum you’ll find the Sky Ute Casino with a full service luxury hotel right next door.