Fort Lewis College featured on PBS NewsHour for efforts to reckon with its pastBoarding school stripped Native Americans of language, culture and identityFort Lewis College was featured this week on PBS NewsHour as part of a national segment about the United States’ history of removing Native American children from their families and placing them in boarding schools, where they were forced to give up their language and culture.The eight-minute segment, titled “Colorado college reckons with a troubling legacy of erasing Indigenous culture,” includes interviews with FLC President Tom Stritikus, faculty members and a student. It also features several shots of the college, the Old Fort campus in Hesperus and footage of a powwow held at FLC.“There has been a huge reckoning in this country to say that institutions must take a look at their own racialized history and understand the implications of that racialized history,” Stritikus told PBS NewsHour. “For Fort Lewis College, that racialized history is embedded in the fact that we started as an Indian boarding school.”The college offers a Native American tuition waiver as part of a land agreement struck more than 100 years ago. Indigenous students make up about 45% of the student body, from 185 nations, tribes and villages, according to the college.FLC is engaged in an effort to explore its history, acknowledge its past and provide a “more supportive learning environment” for Indigenous students, the PBS NewsHour narrator explains. Thousands of Native American children attended school at the Old Fort campus 15 miles west of Durango where they were “stripped of their language, their culture and, frankly, their identity,” he says.Majel Boxer, an associate professor in the department of Native American and Indigenous Studies at FLC, had grandparents who attended boarding schools around the country. Her father didn’t learn the Dakota language, she told PBS NewsHour, because his parents determined he would be better served to learn English without any accent.The news segment also speaks with Joslynn Lee, a former student and current assistant professor of chemistry at the college, who helped lead an effort to update the language used on panels under the college clock tower explaining the school’s boarding school history. One of the panels read: “The children are well-clothed and happy.”Lee told PBS NewsHour it was an inappropriate representation.She sent an email to Stritikus in August 2019, and the college formed a History Committee to re-evaluate the school’s history. The panels were removed last year.Noah Shadlow, a senior, told PBS NewsHour he has seen a change in campus culture since the reconciliation efforts began.“I feel more recognized. I feel more acknowledged on this campus, rather than how it was before, where it’s just like, ‘Oh, there’s just some Indian kids over there,’” he said.But he said more needs to be done, including hiring more Indigenous staff members, including a counselor.And the college is working to improve its graduation rate among Native American students, which is about 30%, slightly below the national rate, according to PBS NewsHour.The school’s effort to recognize its history and learn from it has been meaningful, according to those interviewed.“I think this has opened up a lot of discussion on how we can start to learn more about each other’s culture,” Lee firstname.lastname@example.org
Durango reacts to draft decision that would overturn Roe v. WadeGroups express despair and elation, but acknowledge ruling would have limited impact in Southwest ColoradoAbortion-rights supporters in Durango were incensed while those opposed to abortion were cautiously optimistic as Durangoans reacted Tuesday to news that a leaked draft decision from the U.S. Supreme Court showed justices intend to overturn Roe v. Wade.But while the two sides took up their positions, both acknowledge that the decision by the Supreme Court would have limited impact in Durango and Southwest Colorado.Indivisible Durango, the local chapter of the nationwide progressive advocacy group, along with community activist Harrison Wendt, organized a response rally for 5 p.m. Tuesday that aligned with national protests.Dozens of protesters showed up to the rally, including a large contingent of high school students, marching from Buckley Park to the La Plata County Courthouse. They carried signs that read “Freedom over reproduction,” “Keep abortion safe and legal” and “Bans off our bodies.”“We just wanted to show solidarity with other cities across the country who are expressing their absolute outrage over this ruling over this apparent SCOTUS ruling,” said Anne Markward, a member of Indivisible Durango’s coordinating council, in an interview.Katie Stewart and Mary Quinn attended the rally because they were furious when they heard the news Monday that the Supreme Court was likely to strike down Roe after the release a draft opinion from Justice Samuel Alito.“Plain and simple it’s not going to happen,” Quinn said. “Women can do a lot and we will do a lot.”Though Colorado firmly supports abortion rights after Gov. Jared Polis signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act into law last month, Stewart said she was speaking out for all of those who would be affected by the ruling.“I’ve had four children, and I have a bonus kid. I’m really fighting for the rights of other people with uteruses that maybe they don’t know where they are yet. I’m fighting for the rights of my daughter,” Stewart said. “It’s not about me. It’s about everyone.”Though Colorado has encoded the right to an abortion in state law, Quinn said the Supreme Court’s draft ruling would allow for the erosion of that right if Colorado’s politics were to change.“The best thing I’ve heard is you have to protect your own backyard,” Quinn said. “We can’t take a chance if it seeps in. I’m from Florida, I’m a queer woman who grew up Catholic, and I refuse to go back to that. So it’s not coming in my backyard.”Markward said the rally was not so much about speaking out about the local implications of the draft decision. Instead, the intent was to push Colorado’s representatives to pressure their colleagues to address women’s reproductive rights through national legislation.“We are doing this to encourage (Sens.) Bennet and Hickenlooper and everyone else at (the) state level government to do what they can to help us put the pressure on recalcitrant members (of Congress) and make them realize that their votes have cost women all over the country our bodily autonomy rights and we’re pissed,” she said.It was a point that Teal Lehto, another rally attendee, reiterated.“It’s really important that our elected officials know that their constituents really care about this issue,” Lehto said. “They’re the ones who are going to be able to affect change on a national level and that’s what we really need. It’s important that our elected officials know there’s a large number of constituents that are vocal and active about this issue so they know that there’s a lot at stake especially with an election coming up.”While reproductive rights advocates were frustrated, those who oppose abortion took Monday’s leak and the Supreme Court’s preliminary ruling as a positive, if premature, sign.“We’re definitely hopeful, but since an official decision hasn’t been made, we don’t feel like it’s time to celebrate,” said Shelley Gundrey, treasurer of LifeGuard, a Durango anti-abortion group.While Gundrey viewed the repeal of Roe as a boost to anti-abortion advocates, she was also hesitant about the implications for Colorado.With unsuccessful personhood efforts that have sought legal status and rights for unborn babies and new reproductive legislation in the state, she expressed concern that the ruling could send women from other states to Colorado for abortions.“It’s a sticky situation because then you’ll have abortion tourism in a sense where people are traveling for (the procedure),” she said.On Monday, Politico reported the Supreme Court is set to overturn the decades-old ruling in Roe v. Wade that established the right to an abortion after someone leaked the 98-page draft decision.The court has yet to rule a final decision, but if the draft decision holds true, the Supreme Court will side with Mississippi in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, removing the right to an abortion and returning the decision to the states.Numerous states have already passed abortion bans or legislation that would immediately ban abortions if Roe were overturned. Colorado’s neighbors of Oklahoma, Utah and Arizona have already instituted some form of abortion ban, while in March, Wyoming passed legislation that would trigger a ban if the Supreme Court overrules Roe, according to CNN and NPR.In all, 26 states could ban abortion, including five of Colorado’s seven immediate neighbors, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion advocacy group.With reproductive rights legislation in place, the impacts to Durango and Colorado will likely be minimal, but Durango’s Planned Parenthood clinic could see more out-of-state patients seeking care, said Richard Grossman, a former OB/GYN who worked with Planned Parenthood in the Southwest for more than four decades.Grossman’s greatest concern is the potential return of nonmedical abortions nationally.“What I fear is going to happen in other states, not here in Colorado, is that women are going to turn to whatever they used to do in the past, and that includes self-abortion,” he said.Grossman recounted a former patient who on her second visit to the emergency room admitted to using a knitting needle to try to cause an abortion. The year was 1973 – the same year the Supreme Court decided Roe.“We're going to start seeing women dying once again from nonmedical abortions,” he said.For their part, Gundrey said LifeGuard was prepared to welcome anyone who seeks an abortion in Durango with open arms.“We take the approach that we’ll help anybody from wherever they are, and we just want to help women and their babies and families make the best choice for them,” she said. “If we can help in any way, even people traveling from other states, we’ll do it. We’ll do anything to save a baby.”Grossman, who also attended the rally with his wife, shared relief that women in Colorado will still have the right to an abortion and reproductive choice even with the Supreme Court’s draft decision. But he warned that those protections may not always exist.“The state may change as the administration changes. (If) the complexion of the state turns more red, that law could change,” he said. “But I’m happy that, at least for now, women do have the right to choose.”email@example.com
Fire burns 15 structures, prompts evacuations in Monte Vista, east of Wolf Creek PassInvestigators believe fire was not intentionally setSix families were displaced by a fire that quickly grew out of control and destroyed several homes in a rural community in the San Luis Valley, authorities said Thursday.Fire crews worked in the damage zone in Monte Vista to assess the cause of the fire that ignited midday Wednesday and assess the damage, George Dingfelder, Monte Vista’s police chief, said in a news release.Fifteen buildings, including houses and outbuildings, were lost or damaged, he said. A final report documenting the total number of structures lost will be released in the coming weeks.Investigators believe the fire, which grew to 17 acres before firefighters gained the upper hand, was not intentionally set, Dingfelder said. Monte Vista police, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and investigators with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control will continue to investigate to determine its cause.The fire broke out on the rural community’s north side about 12:15 p.m. and was already “out of control” and approaching structures as fire crews arrived, Dingfelder said at a news conference Wednesday evening. Firefighters went door-to-door to notify residents to leave their homes amid strong gusts of wind that fueled the fire, Dingfelder said. No injuries have been reported and the police department has not received any reports of missing persons, he said.“We struggled at times to stay in front of this fire and stay out of the way because the winds were so strong,” he said.Video taken of the fire’s aftermath showed several foundations of buildings that burned. Several 5-gallon propane tanks exploded in the fire.Mayor Dale Becker credited volunteer firefighters and others who pitched in to attack the flames.“It’s a disaster for Monte Vista, our small rural community,” Becker said. “They were here to take care and save our little town.”The fire forced people from about 100 homes to leave and seek safety, Dingfelder said.About 160 customers lost power, which was expected to be restored by 11 p.m. Wednesday. Five customers were without natural gas service, the police chief said.Fire departments and law enforcement agencies from six counties responded to the fire, said Paul Duarte, of Colorado Department of Fire Prevention and Control. A Type 1 helicopter dropped water on flames from above and a multi-mission aircraft was also used, he said.A break in the wind helped firefighters make progress on containing the fire, Duarte said.Residents who lost their homes in the fire attended Wednesday’s conference, some upset that they would not be allowed to return to their homes overnight. Dingfelder, the police chief, listened and calmly directed them to speak with him after the conference.“I know some of us have nowhere to go. You cannot keep me out of my home,” one man said in a raised voice.Residents were told not to water their lawns or run their sprinklers.“My house did not burn. I am going to my house because that is the only house that I have, I have nowhere else to go,” a woman said. “If I have to, I will sit outside in my backyard and water my damn backyard all damn night.”Smoke will be visible “for a while,” Duarte said, explaining that there is a lot of heavy material still burning in the area.“So please be patient with us,” he said. “We’re working as quickly as we can to help you get back into your your places.”The city is working on an emergency declaration that would bring in more assistance, City Manager Gigi Dennis said.A video posted to Facebook by state Rep. Donald Valdez, D-La Jara, appeared to show a building engulfed in flames. Photos from the scene showed heavy fire and thick, black smoke.Monte Vista has a population of about 4,000. The town is on the western side of the San Luis Valley.Chris Lopez of The Alamosa Citizen contributed to this report.The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.
Some make it, others don’t in Purgatory Resort’s annual pond skimming ritualCostume clad skiers and snowboarders brave icy cold watersHundreds gathered Sunday for Purgatory Resort’s annual pond skim, which marks the last day of daily operations. Purgatory will remain open on weekends through April 17. “It’s a good party, and it’s mostly season pass holders,” said Dave Rathburn, general manager at the ski area. “It’s a fun way to bring these seven-day-a-week operations to an end. It’s been a great season.”Skiers and snowboarders participating in the event attempted to gain enough speed on a short slope to skim across a pool of icy cold water.Some made it to the other side completely dry. A few made it across with enough speed to pull off a quick trick. Others, such as Justin West, plunged into the ice cold waters of the pond.“The water is very cold. When I got up, I was gasping for air,” West said. “When you see the crowd cheering, that anxiety kicks in. But it’s still like let’s do it. Let’s put on a show.”Wearing nothing but American flag underpants, participant Kevin Wegrzyn made it across the pond, but wiped out on the landing. His revealing costume showed the point of impact. “I love sending it, that’s the best part,” he said. “It was a casualty getting a little scrape on the butt, but it’s all worth it to have these people see you send it.”A triumphant crossing and landing was pulled off by Kayla Binggeli who immediately after coming to a complete stop jumped and shouted, “It’s my birthday!”“It was my first time doing the skim today, but it was surprisingly straightforward,” she said. Pond skimming has been an end-of-season ritual at Purgatory since 2001. “We live here and we come here every year,” said Geoff Owens. “It’s great getting to see all your friends toward the end of the season. It feels like the entire town of Durango is here.”Dozens of others hung around the beach area at the base of the mountain, enjoying the afternoon. One group of friends brought a camp stove to cook hot dogs.“I enjoy the people and the costumes,” said Chris Jensen. “This is the first year that we’ve set up to cook hot dogs, but we’ve been coming to this every year since it started.”As Durango becomes a larger tourist destination, residents such as Sarah Anthony said she’s happy to see an event geared toward locals.“It’s classic Durango, I love it,” she firstname.lastname@example.org