Subsistence and Commercial Activity. AU Utes at the time of European contact were hunters and gatherers, although the subsistence focus varied considerably from east to west. In general, Eastern Ute were more committed to a hunting economy, especially bison, whereas Western Ute diets were broader with more emphasis on smaller animals and fish. Important plant foods included piñon nuts, various small seeds, such as grass and bulrush, and roots. With the withdrawal of traditional foraging areas, the Ute turned to subsistence farming following the European pattern. Commercial farming has not been successful, and most modern employment is now in the energy-related fields or service jobs, especially with the federal government. Although numerous business ventures have been attempted, few have succeeded.
Industrial Arts. Traditional crafts such as basketry, weaving, and hide working persisted into the twentieth century. Beadwork on tanned leather or other materials continues to be produced, especially for the tourist market, but basketry and weaving have largely died out. Pottery was made prehistorically, but was not a well-developed craft.
Trade. Prehistoric trade is not well documented for the Ute. Obsidian and probably marine shells were likely traded, but the mechanisms are unknown. Following the arrival of European markets, such as the Spanish in New Mexico, the Utes were active in the fur trade and exchanged skins, furs, and slaves for horses, metal tools, beads, and other European goods. This commerce was active into the mid-1800s.
Division of Labor. Traditionally, economic tasks were segregated by sex. As a general rule, men hunted larger game and fished, and made weapons and tools related to hunting (bows and arrows, various portable traps, drive lines, and catch corrals) . Women gathered plant foods and made the items necessary for those activities, especially baskets. Numerous food-related efforts involved both sexes, however, especially with the Western Ute. For example, women made cordage of plant fibers with which the men wove the nets that were used in rabbit or waterfowl drives. Both men and women participated in these drives. Fishing was generally a male activity, but women made some fishing gear such as basketry traps. Women prepared and cooked food, built houses, made clothing, prepared skins, and made pottery. Some blurring of these divisions was common, also. Both men and women participated in shamanistic rituals. Historic employment trends are generally parallel with national patterns with both sexes working, but with more men employed than women. Women usually remain at home, and some pursue craft production for the tourist trade.
Land Tenure. Aboriginal land ownership was limited to usufruct rights to hunting and gathering for a family. Individual land ownership was apparently unknown. A degree of territoriality was present to the extent that non-Utes (for example, Shoshone) had no access to important resource areas such as the Utah Lake fishery. Anglo settlement and agricultural pursuits removed the more productive lands from Ute use. The Ute were eventually forcibly removed to reservation lands in Colorado and Utah. The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 further reduced Indian-owned lands and eventually opened Ute lands to Anglo homesteaders. The impact of this bill was reversed by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which allowed for consolidation of Indian properties and acquisition of other lands as well. In 1988 a legal suit brought by the Ute Tribe against counties and cities of the Uinta Basin returned significant portions of Ute lands in Utah, bringing the total held by that group to 4 million acres.