Steamboat Springs Colorado Mountain College administrators would like to give the Ute Indians, who once inhabited the Yampa Valley, a reason to return to their homeland.
With a new agreement signed between the Northern Ute Tribe of Fort Duchesne, Utah and Colorado Mountain College, both parties plan to share their educational resources.
"I think this agreement is a good thing and think it can begin the healing process in terms of the history of the state of Colorado and the Ute tribes," said Cameron Cuch, director of the Ute Indian Tribe Education Department.
He said a majority of the land where CMC campuses are located was originally homeland for the Ute Indians.
The college "feels a sense of obligation to give back in some way and help us develop human relations and to begin the healing process," he said.
One aspect of the agreement allows any enrolled member of the Ute Indian tribe to attend CMC for the same tuition price as an in-district resident.
In-district tuition costs $41 per credit hour, while out-of-state tuition is $220 per credit hour, giving tribe members a substantial reduction in tuition costs.
Cuch said he is focusing on getting tribal members enrolled and has four students currently taking classes at Colorado Mountain College campuses.
Students who attend college will be helpful in recruiting other members of the tribe, he said.
Pam Burwell, CMC Alpine Campus faculty member who has been an instructor at the college for 14 years, said the agreement was the next step to developing a deepened relationship between tribe members and the local community. She said the agreement is exceptional since the college is offering lower tuition rates at no cost to the Ute Indian tribes.
She also said most educational programs are subsidized.
"The Utes need a reason to come back and spend time here. This is a reason to bring their children in and live here," Burwell said.
The agreement was put together over the last two years and was initiated through a student project at the CMC Alpine Campus.
Burwell said a student explored the indigenous populations of the Yampa Valley for a school project and found little information available. The college also organized a lecture with a member of a Ute tribe to educate the local community members.
Over 150 people attended the lecture and college administrators realized the void of knowledge local residents had about the Utes.
With the large interest generated about the native populations, a Ute Indian memorial was built and dedicated November 1999 at the Dr. Rich Weiss Park.
For two years prior to the memrial's dedication, there were cultural programs, K-12 school programs and workshops at the Tread of Pioneers Museum to raise the community's awareness of what role Ute Indians played in the heritage of the valley.
The dedication was lead by Ute elders, some who came out of retirement to sing and dance for the ceremony.
The dedication site also has many native plants that the Ute Indians used.
"It was a wonderful thing," Burwell said.
From that moment on initiating an agreement through the college became the next natural step, Burwell said.
CMC is also helping the Ute tribes to gain better personal relations with community members. The Northern Ute Cultural Affairs Office was opened two years ago at the CMC Alpine Campus, and the college is allowing five years of free rent to establish better ties between tribe members and the community.
"We can gain a deeper appreciation of their culture and make it a part of our own," Burwell said.
Developing resource centers and identifying and securing funding for Ute Indians to receive education and training in the technical, scientific and business fields is something CMC campuses are working to establish.
The agreement is only one step in re-introducing the Ute Indians to their homeland.
The college hopes to sign similar agreements with the Ute Mountain Utes in Toawac and the Southern Utes in Ignacio.
The working relationship between CMC and the Ute tribes will be a benefit to both parties, Cuch said.
The Ute Indian tribes have agreed to pursue the development of cultural exchange activities, help develop a Native American studies program and provide internship opportunities for students to work on the reservation.
"CMC is delighted to be a part of reconnecting the original inhabitants of our district with their ancestral lands," CMC President Dr. Cynthia Heelan said. "We believe the exchange of these values and their wisdom will be beneficial to our students and to everyone in Western Colorado."