Out of America: Tribal vision sets its sights on loose change

TOWAOC, COLORADO - It is 11.30am on Sunday in the 'capital' of what remains of the lands of the Mountain Ute Indians, and one establishment is doing roaring business.

It is not a church. Nor can it be counted among the archaeological or natural attractions of the 'Four Corners' region, where the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet in a vista of canyons, jagged escarpments and snowcapped mountain ranges scarcely matched upon the face of this earth.

No, the centre of all the activity is a grey-white building like a warehouse glistening in the brilliant desert light, instantly distinguishable from the dingy homesteads dotting the bare hillsides around it. Outside, a hundred or more cars are clustered beneath signs reading 'By tribal edict: No alcohol or firearms.'

Inside, row upon row of mostly ageing citizens sit transfixed in front of slot machines, drowning their losses in Coke and Sprite. It is, in short, that burgeoning variant on the US craze for gambling, a 'tribal gaming facility' - in plain English an Indian-run casino; the latest attempt by the world's most affluent country to make amends to its original inhabitants.

Nowhere more than here in the south-west do you feel the country's ambivalence about its Indians. Pride in the vanished native civilisations whose traces are to be found in the great national parks near by, of Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon and Canyon de Chelly, is one thing. The wretched circumstances of their living descendants, for ever a reminder of the indignities, lies and brutalities visited upon them by the settlers in the second half of the 19th century, are quite another.

Few suffered as cruelly as the Ute. 'We shall fall as the leaves from the trees when winter comes,' Ouray, their greatest chief, predicted as he vainly tried in the 1860s to reach a peaceful accommodation with the intruders. 'The lands we have roved for countless generations will be given to the miner and the plowshare, and we will be buried.' And in all but the most literal sense, the Ute have been buried.

Once their territory encompassed the bulk of western Colorado and eastern Utah, an area larger than Britain. But a succession of treaties, each broken after a new gold or silver strike, hemmed them back into two reservations. The one in Colorado is a strip, roughly 15 miles deep and 140 miles long, just north of the border with New Mexico. Even that has been divided. The eastern portion, belonging to the Southern Ute, is administered from a dismal township called Ignacio. Towaoc and the 307,000 acres that surround it are the derisory kingdom of the Mountain Ute.

Time and a guilty conscience have produced some small redress from the conquerors. Indians have become 'Native Americans'. Potentially valuable energy and water rights have been returned; an agreement last week gave the Ute greater control over ancient burial and religious sites on long-lost lands on Colorado's western slope. For the most part, though, life is still the misery of a threadbare existence on the margins of the tourism industry - now the south-west's largest source of income - and of an unemployment rate of up to 50 per cent (depending on whether you believe federal statistics or the tribal leaders).

Of a once nomadic, free-ranging culture, there remain only sour 20th-century symbols; tawdry encampments of mobile homes moored on breeze blocks, and junkyards of automobiles rusting gently into the semi-desert landscape.

And even those resource rights are a mixed blessing. Once, environmentalists and the American Indian made common cause in their defence of a vanishing natural heritage. No longer. A dollars 600m (pounds 380m) project to dam two local rivers, and divert water to irrigate the arid Ute lands, is being fought through the courts by conservationists. Development is held hostage to the Colorado squawfish, said to be in peril because of earlier human tampering with the region's fragile river system. The conquerors continue to believe they know best.

Set against all this, I suppose, the casino is a godsend. Colorado is no different from the 17 other states where, under a 1988 federal law, Indians run gambling operations. Incontestably, they provide jobs and money. The staff at Ute Mountain Casino are mainly native; the punters losing their money are predominantly white - another tiny repayment for the injustices of the past.

The new buildings sprouting around the casino suggest fleeting hope that poverty is not eternal. But the sadness of the place is inescapable. Dutifully, I dropped dollars 5 worth of quarters in a video poker game. As I drove back to the town of Cortez and the white man's West, a forlorn sign informed me I was leaving the land of the Ute: 'We hope you enjoyed the scenery.' Even with the casino, they don't have much else.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Nigel Farage arrives for a hustings event at The Oddfellows Hall in Ramsgate on Tuesday
voicesA defection that shows who has the most to fear from the rise of Ukip
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Life and Style
Brave step: A live collection from Alexander McQueen whose internet show crashed because of high demand
fashionAs the collections start, Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution