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Ute Mountain Ute planner wins awards for uplifting community

Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Planning Director Bernadette Cuthair was awarded the Region 9 Economic Development Leader for 2022. (Courtesy photo)
As planning director, Cuthair has led the effort for a new grocery store, broadband upgrades and infrastructure

Bernadette Cuthair, the knowledgeable and enthusiastic planning director for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, has been honored with two state awards.

This month, Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado presented Cuthair with the Ed Morlan Economic Development Leader of the Year Award for 2022.

Region 9 congratulated her on “proactive work moving forward multiple economic development priorities for the Tribe including housing, broadband, infrastructure development, and planning for a future grocery store in Towaoc.”

The first phase of the grocery store is scheduled to open in 2024 north of the Ute Mountain Casino. The tribe has secured more than $20 million from federal and state and other programs for a broadband project, Cuthair said. The bid process has begun to install fiber-optic cable that will bring broadband service to Towaoc and White Mesa.

Colorado Health Foundation award

In September, the Colorado Health Foundation awarded Cuthair the 2022 Dr. Virgillio Licona Community Health Leadership Award for her “her steadfast determination and long-standing career focused on bringing equity and access to the people of her community.”

Cuthair, a Ute Mountain Ute Tribal member, has worked for the tribe for nearly 30 years.

“It’s been a real honor to be recognized for all the hard work,” she told The Journal in a phone interview Wednesday. “Working from the inside, I see the needs directly and work to meet those community needs. With leadership comes with responsibility, and I don’t take that lightly, it is ingrained in my values.”

A life of dedication

As UMUT planning director, she is responsible for planning and managing multimillion-dollar projects for community development including infrastructure, transportation, housing, governmental facilities, parks and recreation.

“I want to thank the community and the tribal council for their support and trust in me to make important decisions,” Cuthair said. “Key to our success is making a concerted effort and working together with county, state and federal partners.”

Sep 13, 2022
Ute Mountain Ute Tribe awarded $2.9 million for first phase of new grocery store
Oct 17, 2022
Ute Mountain Ute Tribe awarded $22.7 million for broadband internet

As part of the Colorado Health Foundation award, $20,000 was donated to organizations of Cuthair’s choice. She donated $10,000 to Ray of Hope Cancer Foundation and $10,000 to the Wounded Warriors Project, a cause close to Cuthair’s heart. Her son was wounded while serving in the military in Iraq.

Cuthair has helped generate more than $108 million in new funding and 800 new jobs in the past 10 years, according to the Colorado Health Foundation.

Between 2009 and 2022, she managed community health and economic development projects including water, wastewater, food sovereignty, housing improvements, and as health care facility expansion, broadband, telehealth and distance learning.

Notably, Cuthair led the charge on a Comprehensive Master Planning Project from 2016-18 for Housing and Open Spaces, the Health Foundation stated. That project engaged youths and elders as leaders of a steering committee and led to more than $20 million in completed wellness projects including water, wastewater, housing improvements, hiking/biking trails, fitness stations, a new mental health facility and award-winning films.

In the news release, Cuthair stated that “the health of a community – mind, body and spirit – relies on our ability to work together for the benefit of the Nuchu (people) today, tomorrow and for generations to follow. Of all the projects I’ve led, those where people rallied around a common cause were most successful. We are all stronger united.”

Bernadette has spearheaded a number of other community health projects to address inequities experienced by members of the UMUT, including:

  • Helped to develop Mógúán Behavioral Health Program, a full-service behavioral health center in 2019 – the first of its kind in the community.
  • Developed a plan and sourced funding for Phase 1 of a grocery store to increase access to healthy foods on the reservation.
  • Directed the Ute Mountain Ute Health Clinic expansion for dental and primary care, which added an additional 5,000 square feet of clinic space and equipped the facility with state-of-the-art negative pressure and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtering.
  • Helped to generate $17 million in broadband funding to provide fiber to all homes on the reservation by 2025.

“In addition to leading community and economic development projects, Bernadette represents the UMUT through public service announcements, public hearings and presentations on Channel 99,” stated the Colorado Health Foundation news release. “She often invites youths and elders to serve on steering committees for her projects, and brings her own voice and perspective to a number of local, regional, state and national committees covering topics such as housing, economic development and water.”