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La Plata County welcomes the voices of a diverse population

La Plata County is home to a rich tapestry of diversity, which is something to be celebrated.

Marsha Porter-Norton

Within our borders is the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, a sovereign nation, and the neighboring Ute Mountain Ute Tribe also has lands in the county. Did you know that at Fort Lewis College there are more than 140 American Indian tribes and Alaskan Native Villages represented in its student population?

The official ethnic breakdown of the county, per the U.S. Census Bureau, is as follows:

  • White, not Hispanic or Latino – 78.3%.
  • Hispanic or Latino – 12.8%.
  • American Indian and Alaskan Native – 7.7%.
  • Black or African American – 0.7%.
  • Asian – 0.7%.
  • Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander – 0.1%.

Because of this diversity and because it’s the right thing to do, the county is working hard to make strides in several areas to be more diverse, more inclusive and more equitable (known as “DEI”).

First, the county was allocated $10.9 million from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, and these funds are for remedying the negative impacts of the pandemic. As we make decisions about how to spend this money, we are committed to DEI as an underlying goal.

For example, the Board of County Commissioners has agreed to fund programs that help with accessing basic health and behavioral health services, broadband access in hard-to-cover areas, food security, transit accessibility for seniors and others stuck at home, and other social or economic supports that will help us respond to and recover from the COVID-19 era.

Internally, La Plata County staff members have started a DEI team whose mission is to lead the organization in finding ways to promote diversity within our organization. The team is working with our Human Resources Department to recruit a more diverse workforce and is currently developing DEI training for department heads and leadership throughout the county.

Recently, in a letter to editor from Enrique Orozco-Perez (Nov. 8, “Everyone deserves a chance to be heard”), he noted La Plata County can do better in ensuring that our communications reach everyone.

The La Plata County website and all of its content can be translated instantly from English into one of more than 80 languages. The ARPA funding request form was made available in both English and Spanish. We know that some in our county have difficulties navigating basic systems, including county government, if English is not their first language. Therefore, in 2022, La Plata County will offer translation services (upon request) for meetings where formal decisions are being made by the commissioners. And, we hope that the community can come forth with a feasible way to start an innovative translation co-op funded by ARPA money.

We recognize that DEI is not a one-time achievement or destination to be “reached.” Rather, La Plata County views DEI as a value to be infused in our hiring processes, meeting accessibility and all services and programs. As we continue to grapple with a worldwide pandemic that has laid bare many inequities, we will strive to improve and welcome ideas from all voices.

Marsha Porter-Norton is the chairwoman of the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners.