OREM, Utah — State leaders and members of Utah's eight sovereign Native American tribes met here at Utah Valley University to find ways to better work together.
"The more we talk, even if we disagree, we are going to respect each other and we’re going to move forward on the things we do agree on," said Dustin Jansen, the director of Utah's Division of Indian Affairs.
The Governor's Native American Summit was started 15 years ago by now-former Governor Gary Herbert. Appearing at Friday's event, he told the crowd it was always meant to "help us come together, have better relations with a sovereign nation inside a sovereign state inside a sovereign nation."
The summit was not held last year because of COVID-19, which significantly impacted some Native American communities. But there were some signs of hope: tribal representatives have touted high vaccination rates among their members who live on reservations — as much as 95%.
The summit at Utah Valley University includes panel discussions of issues facing Native Americans in Utah, information booths for resources and films. On Thursday, leaders of each of Utah's tribes met privately on Capitol Hill with Governor Spencer Cox, Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson and members of the cabinet to discuss concerns and priorities.
"We’re all dealing with COVID. We talked about the drought," Shaun Chapoose, the business committee chair of the Ute Tribe, told FOX 13.
Chapoose said he wanted better communication between the state and the Ute Tribe, noting they are one of the largest tribes in the nation.
"We don’t mind attending these. But if it’s just for a greet and meet, I’ve got better things to do," Chapoose said, adding that he told Gov. Cox he wanted tribal affairs to be elevated in state government.
"You’re kind of doing yourself a disservice by not giving them a voice. And time will tell, of course," he said.
Tamra Borchardt-Slayton with the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah told FOX 13 she did feel heard. She said her tribe discussed economic opportunities and they wanted support for the Indian Child Welfare Act.
"I think Gov. Cox was receptive of the discussions that are taking place," she said. "That he honors the government-to-government relationship."
In her remarks to the crowd at Friday's summit, Lt. Gov. Henderson pledged to visit all of Utah's reservations and continue to meet with tribal leaders.
"I learn from you. I honor you. I acknowledge the things that have happened in the past that are terrible, and acknowledge also that we want to strive together to work with you to move forward into a bright future," she said.