Ute - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Religion was not formalized, but was nonetheless important and pervaded daily Ute life. An integral element of Ute metaphysics was the concept of power obtained from knowledge received through dreams, visions, or from mythical beings. Religion was expressed at the level of the individual rather than through group activity. Senawahv is named as the Ute creator of the land, animals, food, plants, and the Utes themselves. Animals, especially wolf and coyote, were commonly depicted in myths in which they were described as having humanlike traits combined with some mystical powers. Belief in water babies, supernatural beings that lived in springs, was widespread among Great Basin Indians. Ghosts and souls were real and feared. Charms for various purposes were also common. Several Christian religions Currently have followings among the Utes as does the Native American church.

Religious Practitioners. Shamans held the power of healing obtained through dreams or from other shamans. Healing methods involved songs, dances, and various pieces of paraphernalia, the forms for all of which were learned through the dreams. Special shaman designations included weather, bear, evil, sexual, and childbirth. Both men and women practiced shamanism. A payment was expected if the cure was successful.

Ceremonies. Two ceremonies have dominated Ute social and religious life: the Bear Dance and the Sun Dance. The former is indigenous to the Ute and aboriginally was held in the spring to coincide with the emergence of the bear from hibernation. The dance was held in a large brush enclosure or dance plaza and lasted about ten days. The dancing, which was mostly done by couples, propitiated bears to increase hunting and sexual prowess. A theme of rebirth and fertility is pervasive throughout. This theme was reinforced by the announcement of the completion of a girl's puberty rites during the ceremony. The Sun Dance was borrowed from the Plains tribes between 1880 and 1890. This ceremony was held in July, and the dancing lasted for four days and nights. The emphasis of the Sun Dance was on individual or community esteem and welfare, and its adoption was symptomatic of the feelings of despair held by the Indians at that time. Participants often hoped for a vision or cures for the sick. Consistent with the emphasis of this ceremony was the fact that dancing was by individuals rather than couples as was the case with the Bear Dance. Both ceremonies continue to be held by the Ute, although the timing of the Bear Dance tends to be later in the year. The Ghost Dance was briefly popular during the late 1880s and 1890s on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation.

Arts. The Ute enjoy singing and many songs are specific to the Bear Dance and curing. The style of singing is reminiscent of Plains groups. Singing and dancing for entertainment continue to be important. Rock art was another form of expression, and both pictographs (painted) and petrogylphs (pecked) of obvious Ute manufacture have been documented.

Medicine. Curing ceremonies attempted to drive evil forces from the body through songs, sucking tubes, and so on, rather than through the use of medicines. Herbal remedies were also applied, however, and medicinal powers were assigned to a number of plants. These, usually the leaves or roots, were pounded and boiled and the resulting potion drunk.

Death and Afterlife. Death was a time of community and individual loss and was formally observed by abstentions from certain behaviors and by acts such as hair cutting. Mourning lasted up to a year. Care was taken to ensure that the ghost of the deceased did not return, although it was generally held that the soul lingered near the body for several days. All souls went to an afterlife similar to this world. Burial and funeral customs included burning the house wherein death occurred and the destruction of most personal property, which sometimes included horses, dogs, and slaves. Bodies were washed, dressed, and wrapped and buried, extended, in a rock-covered grave in the mountains.

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Dec 4, 2009 @ 11:11 am
Good job this is wonderful information and I can tell you put a lot of work into it and it is really helping me
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Jun 7, 2012 @ 11:11 am
Hello, I found a rock circle in Delta, Colorado. It is not a Medicine Wheel. There is one large circle made of rocks. Inside the circle are 4 small circle pits and inside those is a larger circle pit made of rocks. The strange part of this is that there are also rocks inside the circle that come from on point of the big outer circle and continue down to the other end of the outer circle. Like if you saw the sun rise. Could this be a sun rock circle? Please, is anyone knows, let us know. I have photographs of this if anyone would like to see what it looks like.
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Aug 10, 2012 @ 11:23 pm
I have a few ideas, Pictures would be best for interpretation. Also, do you know if this is recent activity? The fact that it's in a town called Delta also has significance. Eric Friedman
Jack Parker
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Dec 10, 2012 @ 3:15 pm
Wow! This site is a lifesaver! It was my most referenced site for my research paper on the Ute Indians! Thanks! However, I have to ask if there is anyway that you could upload some pictures to provide a better understanding? Jack Parker
James Barton
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Oct 5, 2013 @ 9:21 pm
This really helped me,But it would be best if you added the topic, Inventions,and Government.
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Jul 12, 2014 @ 7:19 pm
This was good. I want this to help out my boys since they are half Ute boys.
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Nov 20, 2014 @ 12:12 pm
hey this is a great help for school thank you. you realy help me on my project
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Aug 23, 2017 @ 10:10 am
We live in the mountains outside of Denver and arrowheads found in the area have been attributed to the Ute. We live at the top of a mountain and on our property we have found numerous stone circles around the bases of old and majestic Ponderosa pine trees. Might these be left by the Ute and what would their signicance be?

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