How Southern Utes Learned to Outfox the Feds

The Southern Utes are one of the few tribes that manage their energy resources to benefit themselves. They even have an oil company, Red Willow Offshore, that won a lease in the Gulf of Mexico about a month before the Deepwater Horizon well blew up.

American Indians got the reservations they got, to paraphrase Loyd in Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver, because the land looked like a piece of shit. Then it turned out that many reservations had rich deposits of oil, natural gas, uranium, and other minerals. Companies that wanted to mine these lands made arrangements with the Department of the Interior. The tribes “approved” the arrangements, but most of the time their leaders didn’t have enough expertise to press for contracts that paid the tribes what they deserved.

The Southern Utes found the expertise, took control of the resources underneath their lands, and have used the money to strengthen their community. That part of it I like.

But I wish they weren’t drilling for oil in the Gulf. I know my wish is naive and unfair: Why shouldn’t Indians profit as whites have profited?

Then again, I wish nobody was drilling for oil in the ocean. I wish we would all make a collective effort to turn away from extracting energy and start producing it from solar or wind or methane from landfills.

Anyway, the Denver Post article provides a succinct description of Southern Ute efforts to become energy self-sufficient. It’s a good, short history lesson.

Source: “Practical Sovereignty: Southern Ute, Inc.,” Jonathan Thompson, High Country News, published in the Denver Post on September 12, 2010