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.

Grove tended to her grandfather at Sun Dances, bringing him sage and the towels dancers use to refresh themselves at daybreak and sunset. And although he was a man known to converse with the spirits, she was destined to have her own experiences with the spirit world.

The first time, she was a young girl, tending sheep. It was a hot day, and she had fallen asleep under a tree when the spirit came to her. It had no real form, but it was a shimmering presence whose voice she heard in her mind. The voice offered her the gift of foresight if she would follow the path it had chosen for her. Frightened, Grove wanted no part of the gift, and the spirit left.

She was a young woman with babies when the spirit came again and repeated the offer. "I am still too young; maybe later," she said.

The third time she was in her late twenties. Something was horribly wrong with her health. Her hands were wracked by arthritis and she could hardly walk because of a pain in her right leg. She had been having dreams of dancing in the Sun Dance--confusing dreams, because Utes did not allow women to participate as dancers in the religious event. But the dreams continued.

Then the spirit returned. Again Grove said she was not ready. "My children still need me," she said, knowing that to answer the call of the spirits was to dedicate much of one's life to their instructions. "Wait until my hair turns white."

Many years later, on Chief Ouray Day, she laughs. "The spirit left but played a trick on me," she says. "By the next year, my hair had turned white. I was only about thirty years old."

That year, 1959, she answered the call to the Sun Dance. In order to accomplish this, she and her husband traveled north to Idaho to the lands of the Shoshone, cousins to the Utes. "My husband approached the Shoshone Sun Dance chief and asked for me," she recalls. "He said sure. Shoshone women were allowed to dance."

For the next three days Grove went without food and water while she danced with the Shoshone women and prayed for her people. As she danced, the pain in her leg and hands disappeared. "It really wasn't so bad," she says of the ordeal. "The only thing I really missed was a cup of coffee that I could smell from the camp."

Sun Dancers make four-year commitments, and for the next three years, Grove returned to the Shoshone. And the spirit made other requirements, including the admonition that, rain or shine, she was to wear no shoes other than moccasins during those four years.

After the fourth year, Grove returned home from Idaho and insisted that women be allowed to dance at the Ute ceremony. Some in the community resisted: It would bring bad luck, they said. But in the end, Eddie Box Sr., then the Sun Dance chief, relented.

At that, the spirit left her its blessing. Exactly what that blessing was, Grove won't say. "That," she says with a wry smile, "is a secret between me and my spirit. You can read all the books you want about Indians and think you know all the answers, but we never tell everything, we never give away our main essence. That is sacred."

Grove continued to Sun Dance until a few years ago. Today she still follows the path set for her by her spirit guide. And the spirits, she says, are troubled by the Animas-La Plata water project.

When she was still a little girl, her grandfather told her about white surveyors who had come to the reservation to chart all the springs and streams they could find.

"If you know about a secret spring, don't tell," he warned her. "Someday they'll be fighting over the water. Someday you will have to pay for every drop."

Grove stops and shakes her white head. "We're at that time."
On a recent video produced by opponents of the water project, Animas La Plata...At What Cost?, Grove asks, "Who speaks for the water? In the prophecies it says that whatever happens to the water...that is what is going to happen to the human beings."

Grove explains, "I'd had a dream where the spirit of the water came to me and said, 'Pray for me. Pray for the water that nurtures and must flow to live, ever renewing.' When you stop water from flowing with a dam, it becomes dead water."

In April the committee of elders, an advisory group on cultural and senior affairs for the elected tribal council, signed on to a letter sent by the Southern Ute Grassroots Organization, the Indian group opposing the project, to the Congress, declaring the project "a hoax that will not benefit our people; instead, it will enrich a small number of non-Indian farmers and developers at enormous taxpayer expense." The letter concluded by asking Congress to "refuse to provide further funds for A-LP until the Bureau of Reclamation thoroughly studies other alternatives."

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