They are known for their beautiful beadwork, but the story of the Ute people involves so much more.

"In Colorado and especially for the state, we refer to the Ute Tribe as our oldest continuous residents of Colorado," Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs Executive Director Ernest House, Jr. said,

Right now, behind the scenes of History Colorado downtown, sits their collection of Ute Indian artifacts. Normally, they would be housed at a museum on the western slope, in Montrose. However, the museum is undergoing a $2.9 million renovation and expansion. It's set to reopen next year.

"The building is being almost doubled in size," said Sheila Goff, History Colorado Curator of Archaeology.

So, hundreds of Ute artifacts had to be stored at History Colorado in temperature and light controlled environments. One of the prizes in the collection include a more than 100-year-old painting on a deer hide, which has never been exhibited before.

"When we showed this to our tribal representatives that our working with us on this project, they interpreted it as what the creator gave them to survive,” Goff said. “And if you look at it, there's birds, there's fish, there's animals – of course, there's people."

They are people who, House said, are still a part of the state's story today.

"This is stories from a Ute lens, it's from a Ute perspective,” he said. "We want people to know Utes are not a vanishing culture."

That is why, when the museum opens, they will start with 200 items on display, including more recent creations.

"The Ute tribes are lending us some of the work that their artisans are doing today," Goff said.

It’s a present-day story that Ute tribe members want Coloradans to see and hear.

"We're not a forgotten people and we're still very much a part of the fabric of history of Colorado," House said.
Groundbreaking for the new museum began last year and its gift store in Montrose is set to open next month. The museum itself will open next summer. Before the expansion, about 12,000 people visited the museum every year.