Concerns arise over Ute Mountain settlement money

Ute Mountain Ute Tribe members are questioning its governing council on where nearly $43 million will be going after they were informed the funds were going to be invested.

The $42.6 million the tribe is receiving is part of the $1 billion settlement with the federal government over the mismanagement of tribal money and trust lands.

Some tribal members insist this money should not be invested and should instead be divided up among the members.

Tribal member Beverly Lehigh said Gary Hayes, chairman of Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, appeared on its network television station (Channel 99) to announce what the council intended to do with the funds, and this only happened after he heard a few members were aware of the settlement.

“We want people to stand up,” she said. “No one told us that we were getting the money. I found out from the Navajo tribe.”

Lehigh said not many people were aware Hayes was going to be addressing tribe members through the network, so most members, including herself, missed his speech.

The original announcement of the lawsuit was published in the Cortez Journal on April 14 via a news release from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

On Monday afternoon, Lehigh said the rumor she just heard was that the council was going to give some of the settlement funds to members.

She also said she would be hard pressed to find where this rumor started since the council does not communicate with them.

On Wednesday morning, Lehigh said the tribal council has agreed to give each adult tribal member $2,000 and every child would receive $1,000. She said this is suppose to happen sometime next week.

She said the tribal members still want the full amount that was promised to them

Tribal members also started a petition drive and presented it to the council April 23. Lehigh said the council had promised that any funds received from the lawsuit would go to them.

“I am just waiting to see what will happen,” she said. “I am hoping they do not go back on their word. They are trying to invest the money without anyone’s knowledge.”

Lehigh said many tribal members do not trust the council members, especially when it comes to how money is being managed.

She said the rumors are that the council wants to invest the funds, but added no one from the council is communicating with them.

“They have not even talked to the people,” she said.

Calls by the Journal to tribal council members seeking comment for the past week were not returned.

Lehigh said part of the concern focuses on the council’s past record of not doing the job it is suppose to do for the members.

“They have done many things that the members do not know about,” she said. “It’s for the people.”

Last week Lehigh said she thought that each member would receive about $20,000 if the funds from the settlement were divided up. On Monday, she said, the amount members would receive would be more than $20,000.

“A lot of the people here are living in poverty,” she said.

Another member from the tribe, who wished to remain anonymous, said the money that was promised to them from Hayes, but he is now saying he plans to invest in the members’ health and medical care.

She said the truth of the matter is that the members who do not live on the reservation aren’t entitled to those benefits because the council has said that they have to live on the reservation to be able to get medical and health assistance.

The sum total of the federal government’s settlement included a total of 41 tribes at an approximate amount of $1.023 billion.

Michael Maresh can be reached at michaelm@cortezjournal.com