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FLC board of trustees reasserts dedication to reconciliation ahead of History Colorado report

Process dedicated to improving well-being of Indigenous students started in 2019
Fort Lewis College’s reconciliation plan is focused tribal nation building, health and wellness, indigenous culture and language, and language revitalization. (Courtesy of Fort Lewis College)

Fort Lewis College is emphasizing its focus on reconciliation efforts for Native American students ahead of History Colorado’s investigation into the Indian boarding school, which was located at the college’s Hesperus campus.

The report was completed on June 30 and was sent to the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes for their review and comments. College leaders expect the results will be received Sept. 1.

FLC has roots to the Fort Lewis Indian School that operated from 1892 to 1911 in Hesperus, in which the land is now owned by the state of Colorado and managed by FLC.

“FLC’s history creates certain responsibilities to our Native American students and the communities we serve, and this resolution seeks to codify those duties,” said trustee Ernest House Jr., an enrolled member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in a news release on Aug. 16.

House Jr. also said in the release that reconciliation’s an important step in addressing “the intergenerational impacts of federal Indian boarding schools” and that it’s an ongoing process that requires “an intentional focus on healing, centering of Indigenous voices, and maintaining respectful and reciprocal relationships.”

The resolution comes as History Colorado prepares to release the results of a yearlong investigation into the boarding school. The research was funded by the Federal Indian Boarding School Research Program Act, which was signed into law last May.

This directed History Colorado to investigate the experiences of students at the boarding school, as well as identify potential burial places of students who died while attending the school.

With the goal of enhancing Indigenous students’ well-being, enhancing their sense of belonging and maintaining obligations to Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities, FLC launched a reconciliation process in 2019.

As part of this process and in partnering with the Southern Ute Indian and the Ute Mountain Ute tribes, FLC leadership advocated for the passage of HB22-1327, which was signed into law last May.

In September 2021, the college removed panels from its iconic clock tower that portrayed its time as an Indian boarding school as peaceful and not problematic. The school’s Center of Southwest Studies deemed to this be a problematic recollection of the school’s history, as it was found that all aspects of the students’ Native culture, “spoken, written, even gestured,” were strictly forbidden during its time as a boarding school, according to reports from Colorado Public Radio.

Vice President of Diversity Affairs Heather Shotton said in news release the Board’s action is an important step in the College’s ongoing reconciliation efforts. Shotton, who was hired by FLC in May 2022, is a citizen of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes and is of Kiowa and Cheyenne descent.

To address some of those impacts, the college has developed an institutional reconciliation plan focused on four key areas: Tribal Nation building, health and wellness, Indigenous culture and language, and language revitalization, she said. Shotton also hopes the model will result in “continuous healing across the community,” as well as Indigenous students, faculty and staff having an “increased sense of belonging.”

“In the future, we’d like to share and replicate this model nationally with other institutions, resulting in systemic change,” sheShotton said.

As part of the school’s newly added nursing program, it will offer curriculum that emphasizes community and Indigenous approaches to health care in order to bring health and equity to Durango and the surrounding area.

In 2018, the Government Accountability Office studied employment data from the Indian Health Service and concluded there were not enough health care providers in IHS service areas to provide quality health care to Indigenous people. The study showed an average vacancy rate of 25% for physicians, nurses and care providers.


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