Alumna Cheryl Frost was recently elected to the Southern Ute Tribal Council with an ingenious – and unique – campaign platform: She ran on no platform at all.
“I know the kind of person that I am,” Frost (English, ’95) says. “I don’t make promises to people that I can’t keep. I don’t make deals with people. I’m not going to put myself in an ethical quandary before I’m even elected. That’s why I chose no platform.”
Elected to a three-year term in December, Frost is one of seven tribal members on the council, which includes a chairman and vice chairman. (The tribal chairman named Frost Vice Chairman in late February.) Together, the body governs the financial and executive matters of the Southern Ute tribe, headquartered in Ignacio, Colorado, including the many departments that offer and manage services for tribal members and tribal lands.
This might be her first public office, but even before being elected Frost knew a thing or two about doing work on behalf of her tribe. She has long worked with Native Americans, holding positions with the Indian Health Service and the Southern Ute tribe itself. Once upon a time, she even wore the crown as Miss Southern Ute, though she laughs while recollecting it now. As far as representing her tribe goes, she feels right at home with her straightforward approach to serving as a council member.
“My role here is to just make the best decisions possible for the Southern Ute Indian tribe,” she says. “That’s basically what it comes down to.”
Frost says she ran for the position after growing tired of complaining about how the council was being run. She was also tired of watching council members make promises they couldn’t keep, she says. So last year, she decided to stop complaining and throw her hat in the ring.
“The way that I wanted to approach my candidacy was to sell myself to the people, rather than to sell promises or to make statements that were either outrageous or that I might not be able to keep my word on, you know?” she says. “I just knew that I could do this job. I know how to look at things in a progressive manner so that we could help shape the future of this tribe. To help us move forward.”
Thinking big is a hallmark of Frost’s life. She attributes much of this gumption to her parents. In infancy, she failed to make normal baby sounds – or any sounds at all – and it was thought she was born a deaf mute. Her parents, however, refused to accept that diagnosis. They worked with her to produce sounds and, ultimately, to become a voracious reader. “They really pushed me so I wouldn’t be a statistic Indian child,” she says.
And that foundation got her to Fort Lewis College, where she got to be around other Native students and faculty, and where she received another helpful push to think big and live big.
“There were faculty who were Native and who wanted to educate other Native people to move beyond the reservation mindset, to think broader, and to realize that we could be more than just Indian people from the reservation,” Frost says. “People who weren't our family, but who believed that Indian kids could be more than what we ever dreamed we could be. Seeing those faculty and other people believing in us, believing in the mission of Fort Lewis to educate Native American kids, that was the eye opener. And that, it really helped. It helped me excel. It helped me want more for myself.”
Taking a seat on the tribal council might be a bold step, but Frost has never been shy about spreading her wings. She traveled to Europe by herself as a teenager after all her friends bailed on the trip. And she traveled the nation, attending various Native events as the Miss Southern Ute representative of her tribe.
But after experiencing so much of the world, it turned out that what she most wanted for herself was to work on behalf of her own and other Native American people. That’s why being elected as a tribal council member is, for her, another fulfillment of her life’s purpose.
“I think everything I’ve ever done, from Miss Southern Ute to being in college and then working these past twenty years, is working with and for Native American people,” she says. “And that was always important to me, because my parents, particularly my dad, always said that we should help our fellow Native American people. Help them with whatever issues they might have, because in turn, helping those other people makes us as individuals better as well.”