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Ute Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Ute Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Ute Indian homepage for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Ute pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.




   Ute Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Ute"? What does it mean?
Ute is pronounced "yoot" (rhymes with "boot.") This comes from the Spanish name for the tribe, Yuta, but nobody knows for sure where the Spanish word came from. It is not true that it means "mountain" in the Ute language. Maybe it was a Spanish corruption of the tribe's own name for themselves, Nuutsiu, which means "the people." Or maybe it came from the Western Apache word yudah, which means "high up."

Where do the Utes live?
The Ute Indians were far-ranging people. Different bands of Ute Indians lived in what is now Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Nevada. Most Ute people still live in these areas today.

How is the Ute Indian nation organized?
There are three different Ute tribes today. Each Ute tribe lives on its own reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. Each Ute tribe has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Utes are also US citizens and must obey American law. In the past, each Ute band was ruled by a chief, who was usually were chosen by a tribal council. Today, Ute tribes are led by council members elected by all the people.

What language do the Utes speak?
Most Ute people speak English today. More than a thousand Utes, especially older people, also speak their native Ute language. If you'd like to know a few easy Ute words, maiku (pronounced similar to "my-kuh") is a friendly greeting, and tog'oiak' means "thank you."

What was Ute culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the homepages of the Southern Ute Tribe and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. On their sites you can find information about the Ute people in the past and today.

How do Ute Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Ute children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. Ute kids also enjoyed footraces, and girls and women played a ball game called shinny. A Ute mother traditionally carried a young child in a baby board on her back--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were Ute men and women's roles?
Ute men were hunters and warriors, responsible for feeding and defending their families. Ute women did most of the child care, cooking, and cleaning, and also made most of the clothing and household tools. Only Ute men became chiefs, but both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Ute homes like in the past?
Most Western Ute Indians lived in wickiups. Wickiups are small round or cone-shaped houses made of a willow frame covered with brush. Eastern Ute people preferred Plains-style tipis. Tipis (or teepees) are tall, tall, cone-shaped buffalo-hide houses that can be put together or taken apart quickly, like a modern tent. An entire Ute village could be packed up and ready to move on within an hour. Here are some pictures of tipis, wickiups, and other Native American houses.

Today, Native Americans only put up a tepee for fun or to connect with their heritage, not for shelter. Most Utes live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Ute clothing like? Did the Utes wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Ute women wore long deerskin dresses. Ute men wore breechcloths with leather leggings and buckskin shirts. Some Ute people wore buckskin moccasins, but others wore sandals made of yucca fiber or simply went barefoot. A Ute lady's dress or warrior's shirt was fringed and often decorated with beadwork, shells, and elk teeth. Later, Ute people adapted European costume such as cloth dresses and vests, which they also decorated with beading and traditional ornaments. Here are some photographs of Ute Indian clothing, and some photos and links about Indian clothes in general.

Ute men did not originally wear Plains Indian war bonnets like the Sioux, but in the 1800's some Ute leaders adopted this custom from their Plains Indian neighbors. Ute women sometimes wore basket hats. Traditionally, Ute people only cut their hair when they were in mourning. Ute men and women both wore their hair either loose or in two braids, but Ute men often styled the front of their hair into pompadours or other styles, and sometimes wrapped their braids in fur. Many Utes wore facial tattoos, and they also painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, some Ute people still have moccasins or a buckskin dress, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear traditional regalia on special occasions like a wedding or a dance.

What was Ute transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Ute Indians weren't coastal people, and when they traveled by river, they usually built rafts. Originally the Utes would use dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. Once Europeans introduced horses to North America, the Utes could travel quicker and further.

What was Ute food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Utes were hunter-gatherers, and moved from place to place frequently as they gathered food for their families. Ute men hunted deer, elk, buffalo, and small game. Ute women gathered roots, pine nuts, seeds and fruits. Ute Indians also used to enjoy eating grasshoppers and other insects. The Spanish thought this was disgusting... but the Utes thought it was disgusting that the Spanish ate eggs! Here is a website with more information about Native American hunting.

What were Ute weapons and tools like in the past?
Ute hunters used bows and arrows. In war, Ute men fired their arrows or used war spears and hide shields. Here is a website of pictures and information about American Indian weapons.

What other Native Americans did the Ute tribe interact with?
The Utes often traded with neighboring tribes, such as the Navajo, Comanche, and and Pueblo tribes. But at other times, these tribes were at war with each other. The Utes did not consider either alliances or hostilities to be permanent, and rarely held grudges against other tribes. The Europeans were surprised to find that the Utes might be their enemies one month, and their allies the next.

What are Ute arts and crafts like?
Ute artists are famous for their basketry, beadwork, and pottery. Here is a museum website showing photographs of different kinds of Ute arts and crafts (mouse over each exhibit to see pictures.)

What kinds of stories do the Utes tell?
There are lots of traditional Ute legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Ute Indian culture. Here is one story about a man-eating monster. Here's a website where you can read more about Ute legends.

What about Ute religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Ute rituals or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy reading a book about the famous Ute leader Chief Ouray, such as Chief Ouray: Ute Peacemaker. If you like fiction books, the novel Bear Dancer: The Story of a Ute Girl is based on the true story of a Ute Indian girl's life in the late 1800's. Or Coyote Steals the Blanket is a picture book about a Ute folktale that would be good for younger kids. If you'd like to learn more about Ute culture and history, one great source for kids is Ute. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American Indian books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2013.

Thanks for your interest in the Ute Indian people and their language!

Learn More About The Utes

Ute Indian Tribe
An overview of the Ute people, their language and history.

Ute Language Resources
Ute language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Ute Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Ute tribe past and present.

Ute Words
Ute Indian vocabulary lists.



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