Ute tribes invited to address annual joint session of Colorado Legislature

By: - April 21, 2022 12:44 pm

Inside the Colorado House of Representatives at the start of the second regular session of the 73rd General Assembly, Jan. 12, 2022. (Carl Payne for Colorado Newsline)

Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law last week that some say will support the Ute tribes in Colorado and foster a strong relationship between the communities and the state. 

The Tribal Governments Annual Address To Joint Session law requires the state House and Senate to invite representatives from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe to address a joint session of the Colorado Legislature. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe are Colorado’s two federally recognized tribes

Polis also declared April 11, 2022, “Ute Day at the Capitol,” writing in a proclamation that the state of Colorado appreciates and applauds the Ute tribes and designates Ute Day at the Capitol to publicly celebrate and honor the Ute tribes.


Senate Bill 22-105 requires the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president of the Senate to invite representatives from both the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe to speak at a joint session of the general assembly each year. 

“While the Tribe is honored for the recognition of Ute Day 2022, we have identified significant areas for improvement in our relationship with the State administration and Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs,” Southern Ute Tribal Council Chairman Melvin J. Baker said in a statement. “This historically positive relationship should continue to be an example to the United States and Indian Country of how sovereign tribal nations can work alongside their State government to create economic development, protection of our people and natural resources, and celebrate unique cultures and acknowledgment of the traumatic histories so tribal and surrounding communities can thrive.”

“To maintain the relationship it must be nurtured, respected and true interest invested,” Baker said. 

The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat from Vail, who serves as Senate president pro tem, and state Rep. Barbara McLachlan, a Democrat from Durango. 

“Tribes are our partners, and they shouldn’t be left standing on the sidelines when policy is being developed and implemented,” Donovan said in a statement. “This bill provides the perfect foundation to start building that relationship.” 

The Ute Tribe leaders also met with Polis and Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera to talk about current projects and initiatives last week, according to the statement from Polis.  

Tribes are our partners, and they shouldn’t be left standing on the sidelines when policy is being developed and implemented

– State Sen. Kerry Donovan

The bill is part of Donovan’s commitment to building a stronger partnership between the Colorado’s federally recognized tribes and the state, according to a Colorado Senate Democrats statement. 

The bill passed the Senate 29-4 in February and passed the House 51-11 last month.

About the tribes

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is a sovereign nation with headquarters in Towaoc, in Montezuma County. The majority of the reservation’s over 553,000 acres is located in Montezuma and La Plata counties, in southwestern Colorado. Some of the reservation is in San Juan County, in New Mexico, according to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s website

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe has over 2,000 members. 

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s administration is located in Ignacio, in La Plata County. The Southern Ute Reservation has 681,000 acres and there are about 1,400 tribal members, according to the Southern Ute Tribe’s website. 

Colorado will be the first state to invite tribal leaders to the state Capitol to talk about the needs of their communities, Donovan said.

In addition to the two federally recognized tribes, there are 46 other Historic Tribes of Colorado, according to the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs

About 74,000 people in Colorado identify as American Indian or Alaskan Native, according to the 2020 Census Bureau. Many people who identify as American Indian or Alaskan Native live in the Denver metro and Colorado Springs areas, according to the CCIA website


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