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The Air We Breathe Is Life

As indigenous people who were close to nature, our people have always cherished clean air. The Ute elders say in the early days the Ute people would avoid the Salt Lake Valley due to the smell of the salt marsh air when the wind blew in from the west. That’s why they preferred Utah Valley as their homeland.

A very respected Ute Indian medicine man, who was our Sundance chief, referred to the importance of air and life. He said,

“We need the wind to make things grow.”

He was implying that wind is a manifestation of the power of life, the air we and our plant brothers and sisters take in and breathe. Life begins with it and ends with it. It is sacred!

To think that we, Ute people, who now occupy the Uintah Valley, must contend with foul air and smog from the petrochemical industry, is very disturbing. It presents a unique challenge because our tribe depends upon oil and gas revenues for our livelihood, but we despise the pollution that the oil and gas industry brings to the air, water, and land. Clean air is of particular importance because all other forms of life evolve around it. The recent upsurge in illnesses such as asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory illness, especially among children, is very troubling.

As earth people, we demand that policies be developed and enforced that require clean air for all Utah citizens. These policies must be strong and result in heavy penalties for any violations of such. There is no room for negotiation on this matter. If we cannot breathe clean air, we cannot enjoy the life that was granted to us by our Creator. To do any less is to show great disrespect for this life, for this great gift that was bestowed upon us all!


Forrest S. Cuch is a member of the Ute Indian Tribe. He was born and raised on the Uintah and Ouray Ute Indian Reservation. Forrest was the education director for the Ute Indian Tribe and executive director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, co-founded Rising American Indian Nations, and wrote A History of Utah’s American Indians. b. 1951

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