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Ute Mountain Ute Tribe plans to improve food options in Towaoc

Chris Clements / KSJD
Heather McDaniels, the Colorado Director of Land Development at Horrocks Engineers, speaks to an audience of Ute Mountain Ute Tribal members.

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is seeking to address the high rates of obesity and diabetes found in and around Towaoc by providing residents with fresh, healthy food options.

The tribe held a meeting on Monday devoted to plans for the construction of a new grocery store and adjacent workforce center.

“The original thought behind that is (to fight) the health disparities that we're experiencing here with the Ute Mountain Tribe, particularly with diabetes, and persons that are on dialysis,” said Bernadette Cuthair, director of planning and development for the tribe.

“So we're hoping that our grocery store will have more healthy choices, and hopefully teach the next generation that there's options out there that can help them with their health overall.”

Cuthair says there’s a dire need for affordable food in Towoac, whose residents often have to drive fifteen miles to shop for groceries in Cortez, the closest option.

“As far as the Four Corners area, we’re considered what they call a food desert,” she said. “So I think that's one thing that is really a challenge or a barrier at times - that the choices aren't really available.”

The tribe plans to build the store in collaboration with Horrocks Engineers.

Heather McDaniels, the Colorado Director of Land Development at Horrocks Engineers, says the grocery store meeting was a productive way to ask Towaoc residents for feedback on their plan.

“We got comments about adding labels in both English and Ute Mountain languages,” said McDaniels. “And I think that's great because it furthers the language, the language - or eliminates the language barrier that's happening, or the language loss.”

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe will hold one more community engagement event like the one on Monday before moving forward with their plans.

Chris Clements is a former news reporter for KSJD. He had previously covered literary arts as a reporter for The Chautauquan Daily in Chautauqua, New York, and graduated with a degree in English from Arizona State University. At KSJD, Chris has collaborated with KUNC (northern Colorado NPR) on water conservation stories, and had his spots regularly featured on NPR's national newscasts.