Sundance Film Festival saying ‘thank you’ to Ute Tribe at every screening

(Image courtesy of Sundance Institute) Bird Runningwater, director of the Sundance Institute's Indigenous Program, is seen here in a message — one of several playing before screenings at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival — acknowledging the Ute Tribe.

A series of short films playing at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival is calling attention to the Ute Indian Tribe.

Pretaped acknowledgments of the Ute people, in black-and-white and running about 30 seconds each, precede every festival screening in Park City, Salt Lake City and the Sundance resort. The messages are delivered by staff of the Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program, which encourages native filmmakers from around the world to tell their stories.

“We would like to acknowledge the ancestral keepers of the land we are gathered on today, the Ute Tribal Nation,” Bird Runningwater, director of the Indigenous Program, says in one of the introductory messages. “We thank them for allowing us to be here.”

Runningwater, who is a member of the Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache tribes, begins his message with a few words in Apache, and ends with one more: “Ixehe,” which means “thank you.”

The messages, Runningwater wrote in an email, are “our grateful acknowledgment to the Ute people for them allowing us to be on their traditional land and for their continued presence and immense contributions to history, culture and tradition.”

Larry Cesspooch, a spiritual leader and storyteller in the Ute Tribe, called Sundance’s onscreen acknowledgment a “great first step.”

“For Sundance to make the world aware Utah is Ute Country is honorable,” Cesspooch said via email. “Utah believes history began when their pioneers came, seldom recognizing we were here first and have our own history in Colorado and Utah.”

Festival audiences have applauded and even cheered when the messages play.

Land acknowledgments have “become more and more the norm” at public events, Runningwater said. “Because [Sundance] is a very spread-out event without a single point of entry, we wanted to make sure to reach as many festivalgoers as possible.”

Runningwater continued, “by offering our acknowledgment in this way, we pay our respects and honor those who were here first — and who are still here.”