Martha was born in 1930 into a large family and was named “Navajo Butterfly” by her native relative. In 1936, she attended Holder school and in 1942, she moved on to the Ute Vocational School. Upon graduation, Martha attended the Haskell School in 1949. Soon after beginning courses at The Haskell School, Martha joined the US Army and became a WAC. By 1957, the war had ended and Martha used her military training to become an LPN for St. Joseph’s Hospital. Martha had five children. Her service to the Tribe continued; she served on the Tribal Council for 12 years. During her time, she was not only the Tribal Historian, but a Tribal judge and planning commission member as well. In her spare time, she dabbled as a radio announcer. Her most prized position, however, was to be included on the Ute Language committee that created the first Ute Dictionary. In her later years, Martha was elected to the Committee of elders. Her presence and spirit are felt to this day as a leader and role model for the Tribe and the community of Ignacio alike.
Leonard Burch was born on Christmas Eve 1933 in the small town of Ignacio, Colorado. He was given the native name Pă nă pŏŏ chĕĕf, meaning Shining Star. Leonard would grow into nothing less than a star for the Utes. In 1954, he graduated from the Ute Vocational School in Ignacio, and just one year later, he chose to serve his country; Leonard enlisted in the US Air Force. During his service, he was tasked with monitoring communications behind the Iron Curtain, giving him a life-long sense of patriotism.
Leonard was married in 1959 and began working for the BIA’s Bureau of Land Management upon completing his military service. It was not until 1966 that Leonard changed paths; he was elected Chairman of the Southern Ute Tribal Council, the youngest to ever be elected. During his early years as Chairman, he curbed spending and looked for ways to improve the Tribe’s economy. He also developed a National presence working closely with local and National Governments, business leaders, and native organizations. In 1975, he assisted finding CERT, Council of Energy Resource Tribes and urged Tribal members to approve a new Constitution, modernizing the governance of the Tribe. Two years later, Leonard participated in the signing of the Ute-Comanche peace Treaty giving much stability to both Tribes. Later, he led the creation of the Tribe’s own Department of Energy. The department would later become the most successful Native American-owned energy company in the United States.
Leonard’s accomplishments continued to build. In 1981, he received the honor of Sun Dance Chief and some years later, he was granted the prestigious award of Citizen of the Year for the City of Durango. In 1996 and 2003, he was also granted the Martin Luther King, Jr Business Social Responsibility Award for the city of Denver and the Colorado Business Hall of Fame Award, respectively. Upon retirement, Councilman Ray C. Frost suggested that a day each December be designated Leonard C. Burch Day. It remains a Tribal Holiday to this day. A short time after retirement, however, Leonard passed away. He will be remembered as a man who truly served the Southern Ute people. The full impact of his vision for Indian Tribes and Native Americans may not be fully realized for decades.
In a memorial entered into the US Congressional Record, US Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell wrote: “Leonard Burch was a quiet man of enormous vision who led the Southern Ute people for nearly three decades, from a little known, mostly poor tribe to the preeminent energy producing Indian tribe in the world, the leader among tribes, just as Leonard was a leader among men. Leonard’s dream for the tribe was audacious, but he persisted where others might have faltered, and he believed in his vision, but more importantly, he believed in his people. His faith in the inherent strength of the Southern Utes was unshakable. It speaks well of the Southern Ute Tribe that they were perceptive enough to know a great leader when they saw one and continued following his lead even when the way was difficult.”