Three Bills Seek to Improve Communication, Access to Grants for Southwest Colorado Tribes – The Durango Herald
State Senator Kerry Donovan hopes to change the state’s relationship with sovereign nations
Colorado’s current legislative cycle could prove to be a boon for the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian tribes.
State Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat from Vail, has sponsored two bills moving through the Colorado Legislature and a bill that has already been signed into law this year that aim to increase access to funds of the State and to strengthen cooperation between the Ute Mountain Ute and the Southern Ute Indian Tribes and the State of Colorado.
“I hope this is the first step in a real culture shift and a historic shift in how the state interacts and partners with our sovereign tribes going forward,” Donovan said.
Senate Bill 22-105the only one so far signed into law by Governor Jared Polis, requires the Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives and the Speaker of the State Senate to annually invite the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian Tribes to s addressing a joint session of the Colorado Legislature.
Donovan, who represents Colorado’s Senate District 5, which includes Chaffee, Delta, Eagle, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Lake and Pitkin counties, said she believes the legislation is the first of its kind in the nation. Symbolism was also important to Donovan.
Only the Governor and Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court have the opportunity to address a joint session of the Colorado Legislature. With the passage of SB 22-105, representatives of the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian Tribes will now have the ability to use the rare platform.
Although it has a ceremonial component, the bill will also have a substantial impact, Donovan said.
“It allows Colorado lawmakers to establish a relationship with the Ute Mountain Ute people of Colorado and the Southern Ute Indian tribes,” she said in an interview this week with The Herald of Durango. “I think too often we either don’t think about tribes at all or give them a role on the sidelines. As partners and sovereign nations, I believe they deserve a much higher status in Colorado and a much louder voice.
Senate Bill 22-148the second bill Donovan introduced this legislative session, would appropriate $5 million from the state’s Behavioral and Mental Health Treasury Fund to create a grant for tribes to build or renovate a behavioral health facility and to provide culturally appropriate behavioral and mental health services.
Funding will consist of a one-time grant that both tribes can apply for. As sovereign nations, tribes will have wide latitude to use money to address behavioral health in their communities.
“We don’t want to be too prescriptive, especially when it comes to tribes,” Donovan said. “The bill just says, ‘Here’s $5 million. You do what you want to do. He can build a new building, he can rehabilitate an existing building, he can do whatever he wants.
The bill has so far passed the Senate and introduced in the House, where it has been referred to the Committee on Public and Behavioral Health and Human Services.
The third bill Donovan pursued for the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian tribes this spring would expand the tribes’ access to state grants.
Legislators have often neglected to identify tribes as eligible recipients of state grant programs, creating a barrier to tribes’ access to state money. Senate Bill 22-104 will require tribes to be eligible for new and modified state grant programs where possible.
Donovan’s eight years as a state senator pushed her to introduce legislation.
“It stems from my experience growing up as a legislator and the realization that when I was first writing bills, tribes really never crossed my mind as an entity eligible for programs. state subsidies,” she said. “…We should always think of our partners when we draft bills if it is appropriate and if they want to be included.”
Donovan sees SB 22-104 as a way to address the historical lack of recognition of the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian tribes by the state government.
“The bill, like this tribal address, will provide the foundation for improving relations, but it will be up to future lawmakers to really follow through on that commitment,” she said.
SB 22-104 was referred by the House Committee on State, Civic, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee, which is a step before speaking.
While Donovan introduced the bill, State Rep. Barbara McLachlan, a Democrat from Durango who represents District 59 in southwestern Colorado, also co-sponsored all three bills.
The Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian Tribes did not return requests for comment. However, in a March 2022 press release from Donovan, the presidents of both tribes expressed their support for the legislation.
“While the Southern Ute Indian Tribe is an independent sovereign nation within the outer borders of the State of Colorado, our members are also citizens of Colorado and within the boundaries of our reservation live thousands of Colorado residents who look to both the tribe and the state for government information. services,” Southern Ute Indian Tribe President Melvin J. Baker said in the statement. “This important legislation supports the government-to-government relationship between the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the State of Colorado and provides an opportunity for Tribes to communicate directly with lawmakers about the concerns, needs and accomplishments of Tribes and their members.”
Manuel Heart, president of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, also said Donovan’s bills could improve relations between the tribes and the state.
“The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe has worked very hard for many years to develop and maintain a strong working relationship with the State of Colorado,” Heart said in the press release. “We believe the government-to-government relationship is very healthy and benefits both sovereigns.”
Both tribes offered their input and helped build the bills, Donovan said.
For the time-limited Donovan, the bills are a last ditch effort to address early oversights in his Senate career and to enact lasting legislation that can help tribes.
“I was watching what are some voices that have not been heard?” she says. “…I started thinking about how the tribes are such an important part of our state, but we haven’t always given them the respect I think they deserve as a sovereign nation.”
It is this recognition and support for Colorado’s native communities that Donovan hopes to encourage other state officials.
“I think we could be much better partners with our tribes,” she said. “Tribes should be part of our solution by making sure we take care of all Colorado citizens.”