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Arts Kids & the Ute Reservation

Photo credits Sarah Bunker

"The Hardy Heart" monthly blog - September 2017

Sometime in the early part of 2014, I got an idea to organize a fundraiser concert for kids on the Ute Tribe reservation. I had received my B.A. in History from the University of Utah in 2011 and one of the subjects I sought out was a favorite since childhood, Native American history. It is a complex and often dark chapter of U.S. history that gets so brushed over and romanticized in the lower levels of education. I think a big part of the desire to do this fundraiser was that I wanted to get beyond just studying about Native Americans and actually connect face to face. And then, I just wanted to help. Studying these stories of dishonesty and brutality and sadness had left me at a loss. This was a step that I hoped could lead to a little bit of healing all around. I had never put together a fundraiser concert before, but I knew the actual concert part of it would be easy. I was into my second year of playing music with with my three brothers in the Hardy Brothers and between all of us we were pretty well connected with other local bands. On top of that, I had been booking us at various venues around Salt Lake and knew it would be easy enough to speak with the owner of one of these venues and set up a night. The hard part was that I did not know that much about the Ute Tribe and I had never visited the reservation. This part of the story is really interesting to me. I am a Utah boy, born and raised in Salt Lake City and except for several years in Los Angeles and up in the San Juan Islands, I have lived most of my life within three hours of the Northern Ute reservation. However, at the time that I formed this fundraiser idea I didn't know that there were actually three Ute reservations and couldn't point out the location of one of them on a map. So the first thing I did naturally was jump online and begin researching. Here's a cliff notes version of the history I researched: The Utes were never one unified tribe, but rather existed in groups of bands occupying sections of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico. Ute life changed in a major way when horses entered the picture in the 1600's, increasing their trade with the Spanish and intensifying fighting with other tribes. The other change came with the Mormons arriving in the Salt Lake Valley and claiming it as their home. Resulting conflicts ensued, culminating in the Walker War (1853-1854) and Black Hawk War (1865-1872), ultimately leading to the displacement of the tribe. In some cases with cooperation and in some cases with great resistance, the Utes over time were forced on to several reservations that through Congressional acts and the discovery of precious metals were whittled away to the contemporary Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation, Southern Ute Indian Reservation and Uintah and Ouray Reservation (Sources:, The Uintah and Ouray Reservation sits three hours east of Salt Lake City close to Fort Duchesne and due to its proximity to my home I made my first attempts at contact. I did not get anywhere. I left a couple of voicemails, sent emails and did not hear back from anyone. At the time I knew nobody with connections to the tribes and not hearing back from anyone, I put the idea on the back burner and pushed on. Maybe a month later, I received a call from my friend Ida Yoked of Expressive Therapies telling me there was an after school program in Park City called Arts Kids that she had worked with that was looking for more artists. Ida is an art therapist and she wasn't sure if yoga would fit into this model, but she explained that she had led a really good session with Arts Kids on the Ute reservation and thought I would be a good fit. I was thrilled! Ida passed on the contact info for the woman who founded and ran the Arts Kids program, Pat Sanger. When I called Pat I was much more focused on the benefit concert than on Arts Kids. Pat politely explained more to me of reservation culture and how outsiders did not necessarily have the best reputation and that I might have difficulties setting this up in collaboration with the tribe. A little bit of the wind left my sails, but we began discussing the possibility of me teaching yoga as an artist for Arts Kids. I also mentioned to Pat that my older brother Judd had a degree in theater from NYU and had done drama therapy work with youth in the past. Pat was excited about both of us jumping on the Arts Kids upcoming spring schedule as yoga and theater artists for the elementary schools in Park City's Summit County, she also said she would look into getting me up to the Ute reservation. In the next weeks, Judd and I were both trained as Arts Kids artists and had the opportunity to travel to several different elementary schools and lead groups of children through yoga and theater activities. My fundraiser concert idea began to take shape when I asked Pat if we could raise money for the Arts Kids Ute Tribe account specifically. She checked with the appropriate figures and everyone was on board. As I nailed down the date for the concert at the end of August, Pat nailed down a date in the middle of July for Judd and I to travel with her to the northern Ute reservation as Arts Kids artists. We met Pat early at her home in Park City and made the three hour drive out to the Uintah and Ouray reservation. I had been on this route before when I worked as a commercial river guide on our way to Vernal to put in on the Green River. For the most part it is a beautiful drive through forests and farmland, past lakes and rivers. There were signs notifying us when we had turned off the main road and entered the reservation and after several miles we arrived at St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church. The amazing Reverend Sue Duffield was our host. She had lived and served with her husband on the reservation for many years. Sue had a straightforward way of running things; you could tell she took great pride in her work and liked to see things run on time and done right. Judd and I made our way around the crowd of excited children in the middle of summer break, various parent figures helping herd the kids and preparing food and older teens and young adults who were there in mentor roles. Everyone we talked to was super welcoming and they made sure we sat down to a big meal with them before we started. It was a larger group than the other elementary schools we had been to, but Judd and I both have plenty of experience working with kids and we were able to weave theater games and yoga games into a culmination of all the kids lying down for the final yoga pose savasana while Judd and I sang "Three Little Birds." We wrapped up, gave hugs, said we'd be back and hit the road home. It felt like such a huge success to have made contact in this manner and I came back fired up for the fundraiser concert. So many hands put in such hard work to make that night of music and a silent auction and a raffle happen. At the end of all the magic and mania a generous donor stepped in and matched all the money that we had raised, adding even more magic to the evening. Judd and I have returned to the Episcopal church on the reservation as Arts Kids artists every year since that first summer visit. Even though our time is brief and there is a lot of time in between our visits, it has become a tradition and we look forward to seeing the friends we have made and to making new ones. That sentiment was reflected back to us in an email I recently received from the new Reverend, Michael Carney, as we nailed down details for our visit next month: "James--We had our final planning meeting today for the Fall Series and everyone is really excited about you two coming. In the section for what the artist will be doing, our scribe wrote "The Usual." I guess you're part of the family." Much love, James

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