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Lessons from the Ute Prayer Trees

motivation Feb 12, 2019

By Karen Eden


Deep in the Black Forest of Colorado stand the relatively unknown Ute (pronounced, yute) prayer trees. The Ute tribe of Colorado is documented as the oldest known Native American tribe in the U.S. They once dominated the Rocky Mountains.


It seems there are certain parts of the mountains that the Ute chose to become their natural record-keeping area. these areas include “directional trees” which were manipulated to point to the most sacred parts of the forest.


Several others of these culturally modified trees are the grave markers of great warriors and the native royalty that once ruled and sacrificed for the tribe. Others are “agreement trees,” manipulated to twist together, possibly marking a treaty between two tribes, or a ceremonious wedding.


You have to understand that these trees are hundreds of years old, and they took several generations to manipulate. The medicine man/woman would teach their offspring how to continue the manipulation process, so that the sacred ways of the Ute wouldn’t be forgotten. It could take several generations before the sacred prayer trees would finally be finished.


Today, many of these trees have been destroyed to make room for housing developments and at least one playground, which I visited only to discover these sacred trees growing right next to the teeter-totter. Am I upset about that? No, I’m not. I know that unless you take these trees down, they will stand proudly till the end of time, telling their story for those who will take the time to listen.


Do these school moms know that their kids are swinging on a tree that designates the burial site of a brave Ute warrior? Probably not. Do the dog-walkers know that their dog is sniffing a tree that brought peace and prosperity to an entire nation hundreds of years ago? I’d say no.


But I know. And those who care to know and learn about sacred ways will always stand in awe and respect of these very sacred trees.


Upon a recent visit to find collectible items at a nearby second-hand store, I discovered an entire top shelf filled with grand champion martial arts trophies. Some of them were nearly six feet tall. Yet, the store had removed the name tags to try to resell them.


I thought to myself, “Did this martial artist die?” Perhaps he left them at his parents’ house and didn’t remove them in a timely manner. My heard raced at thought of what might have happened, but only the grand champion and his family know the answer to that.


Did anyone else in that thrift store know how much sweat went into winning those trophies? Probably not. Did the sales clerk understand that someone somewhere out there was a disciplined and honored fighter? I’d say no. As a high-ranked martial arts master myself, am I upset at what I discovered? I am not.


I know that unless this champion fighter was taken down, those trophies are standing tall in his heart. And I know that that there are those who understand hard work and dedication in the martial arts industry who will always look at those trophies and remain in awe. It really doesn’t matter where they’re standing.


Like most all other Native American tribes, the Ute were forcibly displaced to the southwest corner of Colorado, where they remain today. There are few trees of any kind in this area and the tribe was banned from ever naming a chief again.


No doubt there are young people out there today, descended from the very men and women who lie under the prayer trees, who don’t know the stories of their ancestors. Sadly, they were denied the chance to learn. But the trees still stand, and the honor of those days long passed still remains.


And as long as there are people who understand honor and discipline, there will be reminders in forests and thrift stores for them to drop their head and pay their respects.


You can contact Master Karen Eden at [email protected].

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