Tom Tatum on fence line repairing it in Chaps

In my novel Telluride Top Of the World Cooper Stuart meets and becomes Joe Bear Spirits friend, fellow adventurer and employer. Joe is a young Ute Indian who is a former Vietnam medical helicopter pilot, oil painter, ranch hand and Ute Indian water rights activist. In the novel’s plotline Joe is treated by the US Government and the Four Corner’s Anglo population generally like most Native Americans and their Tribes in the Western United States, which is that they are second-class conquered human beings who are an inconvenient truth.

Native Americans are de jure or by law treated the same as Blacks were especially in the Southeastern United States until the landmark Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954, which allowed them to attend real schools. The Civil Rights movement and landmark Congressional legislation including the voting rights act followed this ruling.

The Native Americans have had few Supreme Court victories in the US’s conquest of them and their lands including their land, water and mineral ownership rights. They are treated by law and in fact like the native populations in the now defunct European colonies. They were not even allowed to vote until after War World Two which many of them served in.

They are harassed by County and State Police as well as the FBI, which has jurisdiction over their reservations. They are provided second-rate services including health and education by the US government on their reservations. Their mineral rights are manipulated by the Department of Energy with the Bureau of Indian affairs and their royalty dollars historically mostly stolen or under reported. A coalition of tribes recently sued and won a billion dollar settlement from the Department Interior for the US government theft and mismanagement of their oil, natural gas, coal and uranium reservation severance royalties.

Joe Bear Spirit’s novel life is an allegory of a young Native American’s life in everyway. He is no different than the Standing Roc Indians who are going to jail because of the corrupt county sheriffs and the corrupt court systems by their reservations. It doesn’t even matter if they are military veterans.

Joe Bear Spirit is a symbol for all Indian youth. He respects the old ways of the medicine men and chiefs but he knows the Ute’s must fight for a modern economic and cultural existence. The Southern Utes near Durango Colorado have in fact done this. They sued the US Government and the Mobil Oil Company and others for stealing the natural gas royalties from under their treaty reservation home. They won a six to three Supreme Court decision to regain their natural gas royalty money forever and now have an estimated three billion dollars under tribal investment management. They threatened to sue for their stolen treaty water rights and the US Government and Congress delivered them their water over a hundred years later with a new diversion damn on the Animas River in southern Colorado. While the Southern Ute tribe has succeeded almost no other tribe or Pueblo has except with the occasional Indian Casino success.

So the Pueblo Indian’s newly educated youth revolution is showing signs of progress but the prevailing attitude in the South Western US remains ethnically and culturally biased against them. The novel’s character Joe Bear Spirit in real Native American life continues the struggle for a fair, healthy and prosperous life on all the reservations in the Western US.


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