Utes choose Heart to lead tribe
Record turnout shakes up Tribal Council
TOWAOC — Manuel Heart is the new tribal chairman for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, winning a landslide victory over incumbent Gary Hayes on Friday, Oct. 11.
Heart earned 264 votes to Hayes’ 162 votes, and will take over leadership of the 2,000-member tribe Nov. 1. Hayes completed a three-year term.
Speaking in his native Ute, and translating in English, Heart praised the spirited voter turnout after the win.
“We had 700 voters come to the polls, from Towaoc, from White Mesa, and all over our land. The people voted me in, and I thank you,” Heart said to the crowd. “We have challenges as a tribe, and I will work for a better future for my people.”
Heart served as tribal chairman from 2005 to 2007, and has been a Tribal Council member for 17 years.
“We have three new council members with expertise in different areas, and that is a real positive,” he said afterward. “The people trust me, and it is a real honor. We are a tight-knit community. I have spent my whole life getting to know our people, visiting with them, listening and working to help them.”
Tribal members also voted in three new Tribal Council members, who will take their seats Nov. 1 as well.
Priscilla Blackhawk-Rentz, a career court employee for the tribe, garnered 116 votes. Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, the tribe’s information technology expert, had the second highest total at 104 votes. They replace council members Davis Wing, 68 votes, and Bradley Hight, who lost his bid for chairman.
Malcolm Lehi, a recreation specialist, won the Tribal Council seat representing White Mesa with 42 votes. White Mesa is a satellite reservation community of the tribe located in southeast Utah. Lehi beat incumbent Elaine Cantsee.
Seven candidates ran for tribal chairman; 17 candidates ran for the Towaoc Tribal Council seats; and five competed for the White Mesa, Utah council position.
“To see 29 candidates is a record number,” said Charlie Lehi, of the Ute Mountain Election Board. “It shows the people were looking for a change.”
For weeks the tribe has been in the grips of an election campaign that many described as a catalyst for a new direction.
“It’s been a little tense,” said Waylon Plenty Holes, editor of Weenuche Smoke Signals, the tribal newspaper. “But it has been a good process with good turnout at forums and at the polls.”
Added election volunteer Constance Wall, “I think people are realizing more that it makes a difference to come out and vote. It is good to see so many younger people getting involved in the election. Change is good; some people don’t like it, but it is inevitable.”
Another election will be held in November to fill Heart’s council position and Harold Cuthair’s seat, who was required to give up his seat on the Tribal Council to run for chairman.
“We don’t have a full board until January, and we will be having some training to get everyone up to speed,” Heart said. “It’s exciting because the new council members bring in expertise for legal, technology, and recreation.”