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July 18, 2013

Jimmy R. Newton, Jr., Chairman, Southern Ute Indian Tribe

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today. —Dennis Zotigh, NMAI 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Jimmy R. Newton, Jr., tribal chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

Can you give us your Native name, its English translation and/or nickname? 

My nickname is JimBo.

TribalCouncil-JWS-June-2013-0094 cor

Jimmy R. Newton, Jr., chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, June 2013. Photo © Jeremy Wade Shockley/Southern Ute Drum; used with permission.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

To be the voice for my people and carry out the responsibilities of the constitution.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

It starts with learning the teachings of my parents and traditional people from where I am from. Looking back at my life experience, I've always tried to be strong person and always knowing who I am as a Ute man.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

Lots of people have inspired me throughout my years, but of course my dad has been the biggest one. And also a Southern Ute councilman who taught me the traditions of the tribe and helped me learn about tribal politics.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so who?

I'm not sure how far back you want me to go, but my grandpa Tom Black Newton was a council member from 1941 to 1947; he served with the second chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Julius N. Cloud. 

Where is your tribe located? 

The Southern Ute Tribe is located in southwest Colorado.

Where was your tribe originally from?

Our original homeland is the state of Colorado. 

Do the Southern Ute have a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

We have traditional chiefs to lead our ceremonies.

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share? 

We were the first tribe to acquire the horse from the Spaniards.

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

Almost 1500.

What are the criteria to become a member?

One-quarter Southern Ute Indian blood. 

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers? 

Our language is still spoken. It's around 10 per cent or less of the population who speak it. 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

The Southern Ute Tribe owns numerous enterprises: for example, in energy, the Red Willow Production Company; Red Cedar Gathering Company, Aka Energy Group, and Southern Ute Alternative Energy; in real estate, GF Properties Group and Tierra Group; and in private equity, the GF Private Equity Group.

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?  

We have our annual Bear Dance and our tribal fair. The Bear Dance coincides with the weekend just before the Memorial Day holiday. The Southern Ute Tribal Fair occurs the second weekend in September.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land? 

We have the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum and Sky Ute Casino Resort

How is your tribal government set up?

The government is set up and governed by our constitution and is made up of a seven-member Tribal Council.

How often are elected leaders chosen? 

Council members are elected to three-year staggered terms. The tribal chair is elected by the tribal membership every three years.  

How often does the tribal council meet? 

The Southern Ute Council has meetings almost every day, of which Tuesdays are action/approval days.

How does your tribe deal with the U.S. as a sovereign nation? 

We try to have a good working relationship with the federal government, but struggle at times; we try through legislative ways to deal with them and go through the chain of command. 

What message would you like to share with the youth of your community? 

Live for knowledge and always know where you come from. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Last thing I would like to say is that the Southern Ute Indian Tribe is still here. We are a federally recognized tribe, and we have our ceremonies and language that we are trying to preserve.  

Other interviews in this series: 
Ben Shelley, president of the Navajo Nation 
Councilman Jonathan Perry, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) 
John Sirois, Chairman, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation 
Thurman Cournoyer Sr., Yankton Sioux Tribal Chairman 


Series banner, from left to right:
 Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All images used with permission.


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