Sage Remington

Return of the Native

Somewhere in all of that, Remington found time to work with Indian AIDS patients, "mostly just to visit and help prepare them for the journey to the spirit world," he says.

In 1995 Remington was awarded the Cinco de Mayo civil rights award from Denver's Latino community. That was followed in 1996 by the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the Denver Mayor's Office.

The constant running, lobbying and networking took its toll. Exhausted, Remington returned to the Southern Ute reservation last spring to renew his spirit and energies.

But he soon threw himself into another cause: stopping the Animas-La Plata water project. The initial plan, backed by Colorado's most famous Indian, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, would have cost at least $700 million, with about $50 million coming from Colorado taxpayers and the rest from the federal government. Originally proposed as a way to bring water from the robust Animas River, which runs through Durango, to the drier La Plata for farming and land development, the project was adapted in the mid-Eighties to meet outstanding Indian water-rights agreements. Ever since, A-LP supporters have claimed that it's an Indian project, although the only federally funded part of A-LP wouldn't bring a drop of water to the reservations. Even so, the plan was backed by the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribal councils.

Remington believed the project would bankrupt his people, who would be forced to pay for the water once a way to fund its delivery had been established. With a few cohorts and the backing of the tribal elders, he formed the Southern Ute Grassroots Organization. Together with environmentalists and anti-tax and no-growth organizations, which opposed A-LP for their own reasons, SUGO managed to stall construction.

Stalled it for so long, in fact, that the original project has been shelved and replaced by two alternatives: A-LP Lite, which would cost half as much to build and provide much less water, and SUGO's proposed Ute Legacy.

SUGO wants the federal government to establish a trust fund so that the Southern Utes can buy back land along the rivers that was given to whites a century ago; the Ute Mountain Utes could use their share of the money to have water already held in another reservoir delivered to the reservation for far below the cost of A-LP. The Ute Legacy would satisfy Indian water-rights claims without building a costly project that primarily helps land developers in the Durango area, Remington says.

But SUGO's alternative is by no means certain. Governor Roy Romer has endorsed A-LP Lite, as have a number of other politicians and Western Slope development interests. And so these days, Remington seems to spend as much time lobbying lawmakers in Washington, D.C., as he does at his beloved reservation. There, often only an answering machine picks up calls. "Hello in solidarity," answers Remington's voice. "I'm out subverting the dominant paradigm, if you'd like to leave a message...

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