SALT LAKE CITY — Forrest Cuch has been fired as director of the state Division of Indian Affairs.
Gov. Gary Herbert dismissed him Thursday, according to Herbert's spokeswoman, Ally Isom. She declined to say why Cuch was let go, saying it was a personnel matter.
"The governor has decided to take the Division of Indian Affairs in a different direction," Isom said.
Cuch had held the position since 1997.
In an e-mail to friends Friday morning, Cuch said no reason was given when he was dismissed. He mentioned the ongoing controversy over a proposed Utah Transit Authority FrontRunner stop near a 3,000-year-old Indian archeological site in Draper, as well as water rights disputes involving the Goshutes and Utes and questions about law enforcement jurisdiction in the Uintah Basin.
Cuch wrote that he thought he handled those issues "properly and professionally but apparently not to the liking of the governor."
Asked about the UTA dispute, Isom said it "had absolutely nothing to do with" Cuch's dismissal.
In an interview Friday, Cuch raised another possible source of friction. He said the Utes had recently raised business taxes on companies working on their reservation, prompting complaints to the governor's office from several contractors.
One of them in particular became upset, and Herbert asked Cuch to respond to the situation, Cuch said.
Still, he has "no idea" why he was fired. Cuch said he was called into his supervisor's office late Thursday afternoon where he was read a letter of dismissal.
"It was a big-time shock. I was traumatized," Cuch said. "I never thought I would be treated this way for 13 and a half years of service. I did some good work for the state, and I didn't deserve to be treated this way."
Lt. Gov. Greg Bell has taken over Cuch's responsibilities temporarily while Herbert works with Utah's Indian tribes to find a replacement, Isom said.
"This is an important role to the governor," she said. "Relationships with the tribes are extremely important to him."
Ed Naranjo, administrator of the Ibapah band of the Goshutes in western Utah, said Cuch had been a strong advocate, including supporting the Goshutes in their dispute with the Southern Nevada Water Authority over water rights in Snake Valley.
"Forrest has been a really great help to all the tribes in Utah," Naranjo said. "He keeps us updated on the issues."
Cuch said he did not consider himself especially outspoken, despite having to act as liaison between tribes and various groups on "highly political" issues. Even on Friday, a day after he was dismissed, Cuch attended a water-rights conference at the University of Utah that dealt heavily with the Snake Valley water dispute.
He plans to start a consulting company and work on building the nonprofit organization Rising American Indian Nations.