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Opinion: Misleading stories on reservation homicide

"Recently, the Rocky ran a front page story concerning "runaway" violent crime on the two small Ute Indian reservations in the southwest part of our state. In a follow-up commentary, newly minted U.S. Attorney Troy Eid repeated some of those errors.

This misuse of statistics confuses causes and solutions, while robbing the situation of its true complexity.

Eid's op-ed noted that there are approximately 1,300 people on the Southern Ute tribal rolls, not 8,000 as claimed in the news story.

Thus, the combined population of the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes is 3,300 people, not 10,000, as the news story reported. These figures still vary considerably from population figures reported in the 2000 Census, which set the combined population for the two tribes at about 2,500 people.

The Indian income figures used in the news story seem even more suspicious. The claim that the Southern Ute income is about $5,000 per person - well below the poverty level - runs counter to almost everything known about the tribe's assets and income.

For example, the Southern Utes are the largest gas producers in the state. They are also the largest employer in La Plata County. They distribute annually between $11,000 and $20,000 to every tribal member over 25. At age 65, tribal members receive annual payments of $50,000, or $100,000 for husband and wife.

Several years ago the Southern Utes' investment portfolio, leaving out their water, land, timber, gas, and mineral resources, was valued in excess of $1.5 billion.

In a 2000 report published to support the AAA bond rating they sought, the Southern Utes reported an income in that year of $175 million, $131 million from gas revenues alone.

Since then, natural gas wholesale prices have risen about 500 percent, even as the tribe has wisely extended its gas production and processing empire."

Get the Story:
Phillip T. Doe: Stories miscast complex tribal issues (The Denver Rocky Mountain News 12/1)

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