History club hosts Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration and panel

“Our goal this year in particular is to not get pulled into thinking of Native communities as historical relics, but vibrant and important parts of our community here and now.” – Sam Christiansen

On Oct. 11, the UCCS History Club hosted an Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration and panel at the Kraemer Family Library. Led by history professor Sam Christiansen and history club co-vice president Kristy Wilson, the event yielded a turnout of over 40 students, staff and faculty members.

This year, the club worked with the Native American Student Alliance, the Matrix Center for the Advancement of Social Equity and Inclusion, the Student Government Association, the Department of History and the Department of Women and Ethnic Studies.

According to Christiansen, the history club has been putting on an annual acknowledgement and celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day for over five years.

“There’s often a tendency in celebrations or acknowledgements of Indigenous Peoples’ Day to lock it in time and present Native and/or Indigenous experiences as something that happened long ago,” Christiansen said. “Our goal this year in particular is to not get pulled into thinking of Native communities as historical relics, but vibrant and important parts of our community here and now.”

Panelists invited to speak included Monycka Snowbird, Raven Payment, Frances Dupris, Danae Lucero and CJ Dupris. In addition to talking about Indigenous movements in the Colorado Springs area, panelists shed some light on the historical mistreatment of Indigenous persons in the city.

“Up until August of last year, it was still legal in the state of Colorado to kill ‘hostile Indians,’” Snowbird said. This law, known as the Evans Proclamation, resulted in the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864.

“A lot of Colorado Springs specifically was founded by Sand Creek Massacre participants,” Snowbird said. These participants included AJ Templeton, Irving Howbert, Anthony Bott and John Wolfe, all of whom are still honored by the Colorado Springs community despite their legacy of violence.

“We are very active in changing the things we did not create,” Snowbird said.

Right now, multiple members of the panel — particularly Snowbird and Payment — are working to combat issues of violence against Indigenous people in Colorado through the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives bill that was passed in June 2022, as well as other legislative issues involving education, boarding schools, offensive mascots and the protection of Native traditions.

Lucero, a fourth-grade teacher in D11, is working on legislation that would implement more Indigenous issues, history and traditions in Colorado curriculum.

“Typically you open up any Colorado school book, and what you see is the settlers — you see Glen Erie, you see Rockledge Ranch, you see manifest destiny,” Lucero said. “But there’s not a lot of representation in the curriculum for the actual Native people that were here prior to colonization.”

Payment, who is a member of the Denver Commission of Indian Affairs and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Taskforce of Colorado, is also working on spreading awareness about boarding schools. Based on her own research, there are 15 operating boarding schools in the U.S.

“Boarding schools are a very recent history,” Payment said. As of May 2022, the recorded number of deaths that occurred in these institutions in the U.S. alone exceeds 500 — and could be as high as several thousand pending more investigation from the Department of the Interior.

Frances Dupris, who is a member of the Indigenous Nations Equality Team in the Air Force, discussed an issue she is combating right now as well involving the protection of Indigenous traditions and culture in the Air Force.

According to a statement from Dupris published by the Air Force in March 2022, “the [INET] initiatives are focused on changing policy to increase a feeling of belonging for members, which include allowing Indigenous military members to wear regalia while in uniform for special occasions, granting permissive leave to attend cultural ceremonies, accommodating hair length to incorporate cultural norms, and addressing the proper use of the chief master sergeant logo.”

In addition to shining a light on Indigenous issues in Colorado and specifically Colorado Springs, panelists also emphasized the importance of providing a community for Indigenous students on campus. “The Native community here at UCCS has not been that supported,” Snowbird said.

Outside of the Native American Student Alliance and a loosely-worded land acknowledgment published by the CU system in 2020, all efforts at Indigenous allyship at UCCS have fallen flat according to the panelists, including the Tree of Peace that was first planted in 1988. CJ Dupris, a UCCS student, was not even aware that the NASA existed — an example of how little the university is doing to amplify Indigenous voices.

The panel ended with a statement from Christiansen on how students, staff and faculty members at UCCS can take action by supporting Native led services in Colorado — including the Haseya Advocate Program, White Bison, the Denver Indian Center and the Denver Indian Family Resource Center.

Wilson also mentioned that the history club is struggling to find a rhythm on campus due to changes caused by COVID-19, but students can expect more events on campus in the coming months, including an acknowledgment and celebration of International Mother Language Day in February 2023.

A mural in downtown Colorado Springs honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day by Gregg Deal depicts his daughter, Sage. Scribe archives.