The Ute Indians are members of a Native American tribe indigenous to the United States. Historically, Ute Indians occupied the mountains and plains of northern New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. Unlike many other tribes, Ute Indians were not resettled elsewhere, and they continue to live on three separate reservations in roughly the same area they have occupied for thousands of years. The state of Utah takes its name from the Ute tribe. There were more than 7,000 enrolled members of the Ute Nation as of 2010.
Most Ute Indians speak English, and it is the dominant language used in tribal business as well as in education and social activities. In addition, the Utes share a common dialect or branch of the Uto-Aztecan language group, Shoshonean. It is estimated that about 40 percent of the people in the tribe speak their native language.
Originally, the Ute Nation was nomadic and was divided into different bands that traveled together. When it was forced onto reservations, the bands within the Nation divided into three tribes of Ute Indians. The three tribes are the Northern Ute, the Southern Ute and the Ute Mountain. Each of these three tribes has its own reservation with its own laws, police, government and other services.
The Northern Ute tribe is comprised of the Uintah, Yampa, Grand and Tabeguache bands. This tribe lives in northeastern Utah on the Uintah-Ouray reservation. The Uintah-Ouray reservation has about 4.5 million acres (about 1.8 million hectares) of land and is the second-largest Native American reservation in the U.S. With about 3,500 enrolled members as of 2010, it was the largest of the Ute tribes. Although the Northern Ute tribe operates several businesses, the reservation's major sources of income are oil and natural gas mining as well as the raising of cattle.
Enrolled members of the Southern Ute tribe totaled about 1,500 as of 2010, and they belong either to the Capote or Mouache band. The Southern Ute reservation is located in southwestern Colorado on about 678,000 acres (about 274,000 hectares). The Southern Ute tribe is the wealthiest of the three tribes of Ute Indians. Tourism, oil and gas leases, gambling and various financial and business investments have benefited this tribe.
The Ute Mountain tribe had about 2,000 enrolled members as of 2010, and it consists of descendants of the Weminuche band. This tribe’s reservation totals approximately 597,000 acres (about 234,000 hectares) and is located primarily in southwestern Colorado, with small portions in New Mexico and Utah. Gaming and the leasing of natural resources support the tribe.