American Indian tribes share successes

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Posted: 12:21 PM- VERNAL - Leaders of Utah's American Indian tribes this morning shared their economic-development successes at the third annual Native American Summit in Vernal. But they also talked about some of their continuing challenges with education and health care.

From the Ute Tribe's natural-gas plant now under construction to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe's $500 million dam being built in Colorado to The Northwestern Shoshones' plan for a geothermal plant at Honeyville, the tribes told of how they are building wealth, and often jobs, for tribal members.

Some, however, spoke of challenges yet to be overcome.

Rupert Steele, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshutes, said the tribe's remote location - 65 miles south of Wendover on the Utah-Nevada line - hinders its ability to attract businesses.

"The lack of jobs is one of the biggest problems," said Steele. Though the tribe is "focusing on hydro, wind, solar, biomass and nuclear energy," it's tough to overcome the isolation, he said.

He also spoke against an atmosphere of distrust and scorn that many Indians hold toward those who would educate their young - an attitude that makes it hard for youngsters to learn.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., however, said there has been much progress in educating American Indian children in recent years.

Tests show increasing proficiency in math, English and science, and 15 percent more are graduating high school than were in 2004, he said.

"At the same time, we have to remember we have a long way to go and the best way to proceed is arm in arm," Huntsman said.

Huntsman called the first Native American Summit in 2006.

Among the challenges ahead for the state and tribes, according to Huntsman: clarifying the real problems for tribes and coming up with a plan for improvement, devising commercial codes that will provide transparency so businesses will invest with tribes, and building the capacity within tribes - education and otherwise - to do economic development.