Ute - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Ute social life was rooted in the Family. Within the family and among family groups elders, male and female, were respected and given special consideration. Prior to European contact, household leadership tended to be male-oriented, but with the growing numbers of Singleparent families, females are more often in family leadership roles.

Political Organization. Band organization was likely Present in the pre-horse era. Bands consisted of several residential units (demes) that united under a leader, usually an elder male who had demonstrated prowess as a hunter as well as wisdom in decision making. Leaders often had one or more assistants who served as speakers or in other capacities. The Western Ute had special chiefs selected to lead dances and rabbit, antelope, waterfowl, and bison drives. Utah Valley Ute had a special fishing chief. Councils consisted of deme leaders and usually met at the chief's house. Women were allowed to attend councils, as were men other than chiefs. Political patterns were strengthened after contact as access to the horse and raiding for the slave markets increased, thereby reinforcing the status of the leaders. This trend continued as Anglo culture often demanded a band or tribal spokesperson. Reservation-era tribal affairs have been directed by the tribal committees of the Ute Indian Tribe. Especially influential on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation is the Ute Tribal Business Committee formed in 1937 after the Indian Reorganization Act.

Social Control. Traditionally, group leaders played an important role in interpersonal altercations, but no formal process existed in the event of a crime or breach of trust. Individual retaliation was common and control difficult, as there were no means other than social for enforcement. Murders, for example, were usually avenged by relatives who killed the offender, an action condoned and expected by the society. Social controls were also sought through the use of myths and legends that depicted appropriate behavior and introduced the threat of ridicule or expulsion for unacceptable actions. As on other reservations, the federal government now has jurisdiction over serious crimes.

Conflict. Internal Ute conflicts erupted in the 1880s following the Meeker Massacre when White River and Uncompaghre Utes from Colorado were forced onto the Uintah Reservation. Uintahs resented having to share their reservation and further resented inequities in federal distributions of funds. Bad feelings also existed between the White River and Uncompaghre people based on events during and after the Meeker Massacre. In 1905 Ute-Anglo relations were strained by the opening of the Uintah-Ouray Reservation to Anglo use. In reprisal, a large contingent of Utes left the reservation and sought asylum with the Sioux in South Dakota. Failing this they were returned to the Uintah Basin in 1908. Further internal strife stemmed from a rift between mixed- and full-blood people. The former, because of Anglo contacts and better education, developed more political power in tribal affairs. The rift ultimately resulted in the termination (expulsion) of mixed-bloods (less than 50 percent Ute) from the tribal rolls in 1954. Bad feelings extended to the tribal Government, and a group known as the True Utes unsuccessfully attempted to disband this polity during the late 1950s.


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