Summit Historical Society exhibit explores Ute Tribe’s use of engineering and science in Summit County

Summit County residents and community members can learn about Summit County’s original residents at Summit Historical Society’s new exhibit, which features how members of the Ute Tribe engineered their homes and other parts of their culture. 

The traveling exhibit, called “The Ute Knowledge of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math,” will run through Sept. 6. 

A new hands-on exhibit allows visitors to participate in STEM activities to explore how the Ute Tribe used science and math.
Elaine Collins/Courtesy photo

According to History Colorado, the Ute STEM Project explores the integration of Western science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and Ute traditional ecological knowledge. The project includes field work, programs, exhibits and films, and builds on over 20 years of collaboration between the three Ute tribes, scientists and History Colorado museums.

In 2017 and 2018, Ute elders, Ute youth and scientists visited sites in the Western Slope and the San Luis Valley in Colorado, and they explored the intersections between the tribe’s knowledge and STEM. This includes the tribe’s use of ethnobotany, or the scientific study of the traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning plants and their medicinal, religious and alternate uses.

Ute elders and scientists discuss and share knowledge of historic Ute sites in Western Colorado. Courtesy: History Colorado

“We really hope that people, our visitors in Summit County — whether they’re full-time residents or second homeowners or visitors — their takeaway is the use of the land, and the land that (the Utes) used were migratory. … The migratory part of the Utes was very, very important for the first use of the land in Colorado (and) Utah. And in that use of the land, (the exhibit is) comparing it to today.”

Queen added that the society is currently developing smaller pop-up exhibits for the libraries in the county, the senior center and other public spaces to continue education about Ute migratory routes and other aspects of the Native American culture.

Summit Historical Society has been visiting fourth grade students at Summit County elementary schools about the Utes’ uses of STEM, including allowing students to interact with a large-scale map that shows how the Utes traveled around the Colorado and Utah regions during different seasons. The classes also look through photos old and new of the Ute tribes.

Then students are broken into groups and rotate through stations highlighting each of the STEM areas and how they were common in daily Ute life. 

In the current exhibit, children and adults alike can complete hands-on activities to engage with the the Utes’ history in Summit County. This includes solving math problems such as how long it would take to walk from Denver to Salt Lake City, and how long it would take on a horse versus an automobile.

“What makes it really, really special is how it was vetted through the Ute tribes of today,” Queen said, “and in the program in the schools, they have pictures of Utes 100 years ago and of today. It shows their involvement with society today. They’re not just on reservations; they’re in all parts of our society. That’s what’s really important. This is really just establishing how they used science, technology, engineering and math.”