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Update on Native American Community Advisory Board

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Jeremy Haefner

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Dear DU community members,

This month, the reconvened Native American Community Advisory Board (NACAB) came together for a virtual meeting, as promised in my October 21 letter. Minutes from the meeting, including a list of attendees comprised of the NACAB members, as well as DU faculty and staff, will be available online soon.

The NACAB, established as part of the Task Force of Native American Inclusivity’s 2016 recommendations, is comprised of representatives from the Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, as well as members of the Denver Native community.

Native American Community Advisory Board

  • Otto Braided Hair: Northern Cheyenne Nation, Sand Creek Massacre descendant and co-organizer of the annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run
  • George 'Tink' Tinker: Wazhazhe, Osage Nation, Emeritus Professor, Iliff School of Theology
  • Gail Ridgely: Northern Arapaho Nation, Sand Creek Massacre descendant, and Native community educator and storyteller
  • Stevie Rose Tohdacheeny Lee: Diné (Navajo) Nation, Native American Community Liaison and Program Manager
  • Sid Whiting Jr.Sicangu Lakota, Rosebud Sioux Nation, Tall Bull Memorial Grounds Board of Directors, and co-organizer for Denver March Powwow
  • Max Bear: Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Nation of Oklahoma, Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Officer
  • Ernest House Jr. (not in attendance): Ute Mountain Ute Nation, former Executive Director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, Senior Policy Director, Keystone Policy Center

It was an honor to meet with the members of the NACAB, and I am grateful for their advice and insights as DU continues to reconcile our relationship with the Native and Indigenous community in Denver, regionally, and most especially with the Cheyenne and Arapaho nations.

During this most recent meeting, DU leadership shared with NACAB’s members several ways we can recognize, learn from, and honor the violent and tragic history DU is implicated in through our founder’s involvement in the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre—an atrocity that resulted in the death of over 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho people and the displacement of their communities from ancestral land. This is a painful past, and the hateful actions of those who came before us continue to reverberate into the present.

The NACAB members and DU’s leadership candidly discussed the recent decision to uphold the Board’s decision to retain the Pioneer moniker. The members shared their concern about the moniker’s complicated meanings and association with settler colonialism, as well as ways to use this tension to provide education around the complex histories so common in this country, especially in the American west.

To respect, honor and meaningfully remember the lives lost in the Sand Creek Massacre and the generations irrevocably damaged through displacement, we discussed with the NACAB a planned on-campus memorial site. A task force for the development of this site will be assembled, and we are working with the NACAB to identify possible locations for this important physical space for reflection, education and healing. In addition to a memorial, we discussed the permanent interior exhibit that will detail the enduring historical connections of the Cheyenne and Arapaho people to the land of Colorado while honestly and accurately depicting DU’s history—particularly as it relates to the Sand Creek Massacre.

We also discussed the placement of the Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho National flags in the new Community Commons building that will open in January. These flags, generously gifted to DU by the Nations and originally housed in the Driscoll Academic Commons, represent another noteworthy move that contributes to ongoing healing, education and partnership. We will work diligently with the NACAB to ensure these flags, symbols of the sovereign status of the Cheyenne and Arapaho nations, as well as a renewed sense of friendship and collaboration with the DU community, are displayed prominently, honorably and respectfully.

Finally, the NACAB provided invaluable advice and insight into the language we use when we acknowledge our history, the land our campus sits on, and the immense losses suffered by the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples and Native and Indigenous communities more broadly. We will listen with open hearts and minds, take their advice seriously, and work to implement their recommendations.

This meeting was powerful, emotional and productive, and I am once again grateful to these leaders for giving the University of Denver their time, heartfelt advice and insights. We will continue to engage the NACAB and the local Native and Indigenous communities in our work to acknowledge the past, learn from it, and build a future in which these atrocities, and the ways of thinking that allowed them to occur, may never return.


Jeremy Haefner