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Ute Mountain Ute leader tapped for museum

Lopez-Whiteskunk takes education post at Ute Indian Museum

Towaoc local and former Ute Mountain Ute tribal councilwoman Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk has been hired as the new education coordinator for the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose.

She will be providing outreach to schools on the Western Slope and working to increase school visitation to the museum. The new education programs will help students and educators connect to Ute history, culture, art and way of life to their curriculum.

Lopez-Whiteskunk comes to Ute Indian Museum with years of experience presenting and sharing the Ute culture through song, dance and lectures.

In 2013, she was elected to serve as a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal leadership. She has degrees from Chief Dull Knife College and American InterContinental University and has worked for Chief Dull Knife College, the Southern Ute Indian and Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribes of Colorado.

“The museum represents all of the Ute tribes, and I am truly honored to represent our culture — to share not only our history, but also our modern life and successes with the public,” she said in a telephone interview.

Lopez-Whiteskunk is the first Ute Mountain Ute tribal member to head up the education programs at the museum, which was recently expanded and renovated.

“We are fortunate to have Regina on our team,” said museum Director CJ Brafford. “Her experience and enthusiasm are great assets to the museum, and her programs will enhance the educational experience for students and the community.”

The opportunity to bring in her cultural experiences growing up in Towaoc, and to help tell the story of the Ute people from a tribal member perspective is significant, Lopez-Whiteskunk said.

“A lot of times, our history is told by non-natives, and things are added or omitted,” she said.

“To be able to pass along information direct from the tribe is exciting. The people of the Montrose Valley appreciate our story, and we have a lot of history here as well.”

Her vision is to go beyond showing off the cultural artifacts of the tribe’s long history. She also wants to inform students of modern day life of tribal communities, their leaders and people.

“An important aspect for me is the current day Utes, because too often people go to museums, look at the artifacts and are left wondering if the people still exist,” Lopez-Whiteskunk said. “We have treaties that still stand, our communities are creative and growing, and our leadership is constantly working to cultivate partnerships with the state and federal governments.”

As a cultural representative, she performs the traditional songs and dances of the Ute culture, and knows some of the Ute language. She plans to incorporate those aspects into her education programs.

Lopez-Whiteskunk is also eager to bring Ute youths and elders from the different tribes, including the Ute Mountain, Southern Ute, and Northern Utah Utes, to help tell the story of their culture.

“I was raised on the reservation immersed in our culture, but I can only tell a part of the story,” she said. “Each tribe has been doing great things. The youth have their perspective, and elders have so much to share. What our grandparents and tribal leaders know, you will not learn at colleges and universities.”

Lopez-Whiteskunk recently attended a ceremony at the Ute Council Tree in nearby Delta. In Ute history, the century-old tree was an important gathering place for leaders to discuss issues and solve problems.

Because of its age, a lot of it had to be cut back, but a 20-foot section remains.

“He was an old tree. There’s an understanding that part of the circle of life is that we will not live forever,” she said with a tinge of sadness.

“There is still remnants of his existence, and Delta still provides the interpretive sign there to honor the Ute people. Its existence will continue to live through our stories.”


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