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

Leave A Comment

  1. Jonathan Thompson November 3, 2010 at 1:40 pm - Reply


    Thanks so much for mentioning my story on the Southern Utes. It’s especially timely, since the tribe’s government is facing a recall effort. I wanted to point your readers to a longer, more complete version of the story, with a LOT more history (it’s long) at my little website. Thanks again:


  2. Beth Partin November 3, 2010 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    Jonathan, thanks for commenting and for providing the link.

  3. Laurel Kallenbach November 15, 2010 at 11:01 am - Reply

    I too find myself bemoaning indigenous peoples’ decisions to mine, drill, and to build casinos on undeveloped land. But yet, how dare we tell them not to do what they can to make money–especially when poverty on reservations is rampant. Decades ago the U.S. government forced tribal peoples to speak English and wear European clothes. Now we’re berating them for following our environmentally destructive practices.