The Ute people are indigenous to the American Great Basin, now living primarily in Utah and Colorado, and are the basis of our state’s name. With a reservation in the Uintah mountains about 150 miles east of Salt Lake City, the Ute people have a tribal membership of about 3,150 (according to the official Ute tribe’s website) and provide local services to the reservation’s surrounding counties, as well as oversee approximately 1.3 million acres of trust land. And now their actions are making headlines in Salt Lake City as well. Setting up a scholarship fund at the University of Utah, spokespeople for the Ute tribe hope to encourage more American Indians to become professional public servants as Utah attorneys.
The scholarship has been set up in the name of David Arapene Cuch, the first Ute tribe member to enroll in the University of Utah law school, “and so far he’s been the last.” But his friends and family have donated more than $40,000 in the hopes that the fund will encourage other Ute tribe members to attend the university’s S.J. Quinney College of Law. David was 28 and in his third year of law school when he died. While he never worked with Utah attorneys like Kristina Otterstrom serving families in the state, the University awarded him the degree posthumously.
“We need more Indian lawyers,” said David’s brother Cameron Cuch. “It’s important to our tribe and our community we have people who understand our issues and concerns and who will fight to protect our way of life.” Which is a statement that would be keenly felt by members of other tribes who are seeing the obligations of their treaties ignored by the U.S. Government in Texas, for example. Utah attorneys with strong tribal ties and knowledge could help prevent such abuses of power.
Forrest Cuch, David’s father and the former director of the state’s Division of Indian Affairs agrees, noting the fact that the University of Utah’s logo and team name—the Utah Utes—can help bring awareness to the tribal nations of their needed presence at the U. Referring to the recent trend among college students “to dress up and wear war paint,” Forrest Cuch emphasizes that the logo and team name “is a form of connection,” and that “in any relationship, there will be good and bad. You just need to emphasize the good.” Forrest believes that leveraging the offensive characterization of American Indians by college kids at parties “to educate everyone” about tribal nations, their struggles and their cultural significance can improve the relationship.
Utah attorneys like Otterstrom know as well as any college student that the “rising cost of a legal education is making scholarship money even more important,” and it is the hope of the Cuch family and their friends that the support from scholarship funds will allow American Indian tribe members to graduate from law school and “take lower-paid public service jobs, rather than worrying entirely about paying their loans.”