Honoring Native American Heritage Month and DU's relationship with Native American and Indigenous communities
Dear University of Denver community,
In 1990, the U.S. Congress designated November as Native American Heritage Month. This time period has particular resonance for us at the University of Denver due to our historic relationship with Native and Indigenous peoples on the land that DU calls home. As documented and described in the findings of the John Evans Report and other sources, figures prominent in the founding of DU bear culpability for the violence and injustice perpetrated against Native peoples—specifically at Sand Creek. This tragic, historical legacy is something we struggle with to this very day.
Beginning in September of this year, we, as leaders at the University of Denver, have sought to more fully embrace the importance of Heritage months to help us all better understand our valuable differences as a community. We have sought to provide relevant context and specific examples of the myriad ways our university and nation have been made stronger by the wealth of our diversity. Yet, due to our historic relationship with Native American and Indigenous communities, especially to the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples and communities who continue to bear the burden of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, we felt that this message must be different.
As such, we want to take this opportunity to ask our community to redouble its efforts to educate ourselves, and our wider networks, about our distinct and fraught relationship with Indigenous peoples. We ask of our entire community, especially those of us who serve as leaders, to closely read and examine the John Evans Report, seek to understand its findings, and grapple with its recommendations. We also ask that you learn deeply from Native American and Indigenous faculty who are transforming our understanding through their impactful research, scholarship, and teaching about the past, present, and future of Native American and Indigenous peoples, cultures, and histories.
Most importantly, we know that we must listen to our Indigenous community members—the Native Student Alliance, the Native American Community Advisory Board, and all of our Native American and Indigenous staff and faculty members, as well as alumni—and engage with their concerns openly and honestly. We have entrusted our Native and Indigenous community to help build and grow our Indigenous initiatives, and we thank them for their ideas and creativity in continuing to develop new programs and initiatives, as well. For this reason, we recognize the events of the past weeks and months have destabilized the trust we have worked to build over much of the past decade. We understand we must do a better job consulting with this community and turn to our Native American and Indigenous leaders more frequently for counsel and wisdom.
There are many ways we can engage with our past—and the present—this month. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused Cheyenne and Arapaho community organizers to cancel this year’s annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run, we ask our community to find time to thoughtfully consider this legacy. Every time you pass the nearly completed Community Commons, for instance, we hope you envision the return of the flags gifted to us by the Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Nations, as agreed, in a prominent display that respects and honors our relationships and ongoing obligations. With guidance from tribal representatives, the new display will also include a white flag of truce and a 33-star U.S. flag in recognition of the same flags that were flying at the Cheyenne and Arapaho encampment when the Sand Creek Massacre occurred.
We do this with the acknowledgment that the land where the University of Denver now sits is the ancestral homeland of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, and that there is much work still to be accomplished. This work will take the active participation of each of us, the entire DU community. We must take these important steps together as OneDU toward healing and make DU a more inclusive and equitable place for all.
Jeremy Haefner, chancellor
Mary Clark, provost and executive vice chancellor
Tom Romero, interim vice chancellor of diversity, equity, and inclusion
Todd Adams, vice chancellor of student affairs
Jerron Lowe, interim vice chancellor of human resources
Billy Stratton, special advisor on Native American partnerships and programs