Rough Waters

The Animas-La Plata project is supposed to fulfill the government's promise to Colorado Utes. But tribal opponents worry it will leave the reservations high and dry.

"It's hard to get people on the reservation involved politically," Remington says. "We have everything. Trust accounts. Employment. Funds for college. New cars. A beautiful place to live.

"But people are waking up. I think we can stop this, if we just have enough time."

On the Sun Dance grounds, Remington stoops to pick up a small cloth bag of tobacco--an offering to the spirits--and a dancer's wreath, which he places at the bottom of the lodge pole.

"The Sun Dance chief should have made sure these were all taken home and burned or buried. Sometimes people who have so much get complacent and take things for granted."

The drums thunder at the Sky Ute Downs pow-wow. Those of the northern tribes are higher pitched, those of the south are lower. Dancers from many tribes have assembled. Oklahoma. Chippewa. Lakota. Navajo. Pueblo. Ute. Small metal cones sewn to the dancers' costumes jangle together in time with the movement--the cones were once made from spent calvary shells gathered at battlefields but today are made from the tin tops of snuff cans.

An announcement is made. The family of Sadie Frost--grandmother, mother, siblings, aunts and uncles--have requested an honor song in her memory. For a year they have been in mourning, removed from the circle of their community, prohibited by custom from participating in social events.

The family members line up side by side. The drums begin again, pounding like the heartbeat they are meant to represent. As the singers start keening, a sound that conveys more in emotion than words, the family begins moving forward in quiet, bouncing steps.

More than a hundred Indians, Ute and non-Ute, in cowboy hats and eagle bonnets, move toward Sadie Frost's family, one by one shaking hands or hugging, welcoming family members back to the circle of the living. Then they take their places behind the family as the dance moves slowly around the perimeter of the grounds.

Among the Utes who greet the family, there are those who support the Animas-La Plata water project and those who oppose it. But there are no rivers deep enough, or wide enough, or valuable enough, to keep them apart on this day.

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