Bernadette Cuthair was recognized as the 2022 Dr. Virgilio Licona Community Health Leadership Award recipient for her steadfast determination and long-standing career focused on bringing equity and access to the people of her community – the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe (UMUT).
Employed by the UMUT for nearly 30 years, Bernadette has served her community through progressive upward roles and responsibilities deeply linked to her personal – and professional – commitment to advancing equity for the entire UMUT community. In her current role as UMUT planning director, she is responsible for planning and managing multi-million-dollar projects for community development including infrastructure, transportation, housing, governmental facilities, parks, recreation and more.
An instrumental tribal leader, Bernadette has helped generate over $108 million in new funding and 800 new jobs in the past 10 years. Between 2009 and 2022, she managed community health and economic development projects including water; wastewater; food sovereignty; housing improvements; as well as expanding health care facilities, broadband, telehealth and distance learning.
Notably, Bernadette led the charge on a Comprehensive Master Planning Project from 2016-18 for Housing and Open Spaces. That project engaged youth and elders as leaders of a steering committee and led to over $20 million in completed wellness projects including water, wastewater, housing improvements, hiking/biking trails, fitness stations, a new mental health facility, as well as award-winning films.
“The health of a community – mind, body and spirit – relies on our ability to work together for the benefit of the Nuchu (people) today, tomorrow and for generations to follow. Of all the projects I’ve led, those where people rallied around a common cause were most successful. We are all stronger united.”
Bernadette has spearheaded a number of other community health projects with the specific purpose of addressing inequities experienced by members of the UMUT, including:
- Helped to develop Mógúán Behavioral Health Program, a full-service behavioral health center in 2019 – the first of its kind in the community.
- Developed a plan and sourced funding for phase one of a grocery store to increase access to healthy foods on the reservation.
- Directed the Ute Mountain Ute Health Clinic expansion for dental and primary care, which added an additional 5,000 square feet of clinic space and equipped the facility with state-of-the-art negative pressure and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtering.
- Generated $17 million in broadband funding to provide fiber to all homes on the reservation by 2025.
In addition to leading community and economic development projects, Bernadette represents the UMUT through public service announcements, public hearings and presentations on Channel 99. As an active member of her community, she embodies a multi-generational approach to building community connection and power through promoting intergenerational learning, cultural integration, diversity, equity and inclusion. She often invites youth and elders to serve on steering committees for her projects, and brings her own voice and perspective to a number of local, regional, state and national committees covering topics such as housing, economic development and water. In December 2019, Bernadette was named the Indian Energy Champion by the U.S. Department of Energy. She is a long-time supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to serving wounded veterans.
The Dr. Virgilio Licona Community Health Leadership Award program honors on-the-ground changemakers – working both at the systems and community levels – who are tackling significant community health barriers and advancing health equity in Colorado. The award program is designed to recognize the power of community health leadership in driving positive health outcomes for Coloradans who have historically had less power and/or privilege. Learn more about the Dr. Virgilio Licona Community Health Leadership Award, which opens annually for nominations each spring.