Reconciliation at Fort Lewis College

Fort Lewis College is committed to a reconciliation process that acknowledges our historical impact and honors our responsibilities to Indigenous communities, students, faculty, and staff. We recognize this is an ongoing process requiring an intentional focus on healing. Our reconciliation is critical to our future.

We began our reconciliation process and established the Committee on FLC History in 2019, starting a multi-year conversation about our federal boarding school origin and its historical impact on Indigenous students and communities. Since then, the campus has hosted several listening sessions to open a dialogue about reconciliation and develop recommendations. Our first act of change was our ceremony to remove incorrect public displays of FLC history.

The Office of Diversity Affairs leads our continued reconciliation work in partnership with faculty, staff, students, and Tribal Nations. Through this work, we aim to improve the well-being of Indigenous students by increasing their sense of belonging and upholding our responsibilities to our Indigenous and College communities.

HB 22-1327: The Native American Boarding School Research Program Act

Governor Jared Polis signed the Native American Boarding School Research Program Act (HB22-1327) into law on May 24, 2022. This act establishes the federal Indian boarding school research program and directs History Colorado to investigate the lived experiences of students at the one-time Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School in Hesperus, CO, and identify potential burial places of students who perished while attending the school.

Fort Lewis College leadership in consultation with the two Colorado Ute Tribes advocated for HB22-1327. FLC partners with History Colorado to complete the work of HB22-1327. 

HB22-1327 & History Colorado Q&A

What is the Native American Boarding School Research Program Act?

Governor Jared Polis signed the Native American Boarding School Research Program Act (HB22-1327) into law on May 24, 2022. The Act directs History Colorado to investigate the lived experiences of students at the one-time federal Native American boarding school in Hesperus, Colorado, also referred to as the Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School, as well as identify potential burial places of students who perished while attending the school.

HB22-1327 was advocated for by the leadership of Fort Lewis College in consultation with the two Colorado Ute Tribes. FLC traces its roots to the school at Hesperus, located twenty miles from the present-day campus, and recognizes the importance of reckoning with this history.

What is Fort Lewis College’s role in the Native American Boarding School Research Program Act?

FLC is an important partner to History Colorado in completing the work of HB22-1327. Faculty and students have been engaged in a multi-year conversation on its origin as a federal boarding school and the impact of that history on Indigenous students and communities.

What is the history of Federal Indian Boarding Schools?

Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School and the Teller Institute were part of an Indian education experiment started at the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania. The goal of Indian schools was assimilation and the systemic eradication of Native practices, including traditional clothing, hairstyles, language, and beliefs or religious systems. Instead, students were subjected to heavy labor in the form of education that included learning agricultural practices, trades such as blacksmithing and carpentry, and domestic labor such as laundry to prepare students for such jobs in a white-dominated society.

What is History Colorado?

History Colorado is a division of the Colorado Department of Higher Education and a 501(c)3 non-profit that serves more than 75,000 students and 500,000 people in Colorado each year. It is a 143-year-old institution that operates Colorado’s oldest museum, ten additional museums, and historic sites, a free public research center, the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, which provides technical assistance, educational opportunities, and other access to archaeology and historic preservation, and the History Colorado State Historical Fund (SHF), which is the nation’s largest preservation program of its kind. More than 70% of SHF grants are allocated in rural areas of the state.

History Colorado’s mission is to create a better future for Colorado by inspiring wonder in our past. We serve as the state’s memory, preserving and sharing the places, stories, and material culture of Colorado through educational programs, historic preservation grants, collecting, outreach to Colorado communities, the History Colorado Center and Stephen H. Hart Research Center in Denver, and 10 other museums and historic attractions statewide. History Colorado is one of only six Smithsonian Affiliates in Colorado. Visit HistoryColorado.org or call 303-HISTORY for more information.

What is History Colorado’s role in the Native American Boarding School Research Program Act?

Over the next year, History Colorado will work closely with Tribal partners, subject matter experts, and other stakeholders to research the events, physical and emotional abuse, and deaths associated with the school at Hesperus. History Colorado will facilitate Tribal consultations to develop recommendations necessary to better understand the mistreatment and victimization that occurred onsite.

What is the research timeline for the Hesperus site?

The bill was signed into law in May 2022 and the work and final reports will be completed by the end of 2023.

Who is leading the research for History Colorado?

The History Colorado team is led by Dr. Holly Kathryn Norton, the Colorado State Archaeologist, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, and Director of History Colorado’s Office of Archaeology & Historic Preservation (OAHP). Dr. Norton has expertise in methods and approaches for sensitive cultural sites.

Dr. Norton and her team are working in cooperation with tribal elders to adhere to cultural protocols, including having tribal monitors on-site during the project research.

Who is responsible for sharing information with the public?

History Colorado plans to provide progress updates to the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA), the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe at CCIA Quarterly Meetings, which are open to the public. CCIA Quarterly Meeting information, including progress reports, is located on the CCIA website.

How are these sites used today? Can the public visit them?

The school site at Hesperus is owned by the Colorado State Land Board and managed by FLC. The location currently serves as an agricultural research facility for FLC. To preserve the integrity of the groundwork at hand and out of respect for the students, both past and present, no one is allowed to enter the property without an official request and written permission.

The school in Grand Junction, also known as the Teller Institute, currently serves the intellectual disability community as the Grand Junction Regional Center, which dates back to 1919. Similarly, out of respect for the residents past and present, no one is allowed to enter the property without an official request and written permission.

How does HB22-1327 differ from FLC History Committee/Indigenous Working Group?

HB22-1237 directs History Colorado to investigate the lived experiences of students at the one-time federal Native American boarding school in Hesperus. FLC is an important partner to History Colorado but is not conducting any archaeological research at the Old Fort.

Separate from HB22-1327, FLC is working to understand and acknowledge its history as an Indian boarding school through campuswide reconciliation initiatives. The Office of Diversity Affairs is leading the reconciliation work at FLC in partnership with the Indigenous Working Group, a committee of staff, faculty, and students who engage the campus community in discussion groups, creative works, and other collaborations to improve well-being and increase students' sense of belonging. 

How many other Native American boarding schools operated in Colorado?

To date, the Department of the Interior has identified five known Native American boarding schools in Colorado.

  • Two off-reservation boarding schools operated in the state: the Teller Institute, formally known as the Grand Junction Indian Boarding School, which operated from 1886 to 1911; and the Fort Lewis Indian School in Hesperus, which operated from 1891 to 1911.
  • Additionally, two on-reservation schools also existed in Ignacio and Towaoc, operating from the 1890s to around 1920.
  • The Catholic-run Good Shepherd Industrial School operated for an unknown time in Denver in the 1880s.

Research into the experiences of Native students at the Teller Institute in Grand Junction began before the passage of HB22-1327 and is a separate project. Colorado Department of Human Services was awarded a State Historical Fund (SHF) grant that has been used to fund tribal consultations and remote sensing. HB22-1327 does include a provision that the Colorado Department of Human Services, which oversees the Grand Junction property, may not sell or dispose of it until the work has been completed and appropriate Tribal consultations have provided recommendations regarding the fate of the former school.

Contact

Questions related to FLC:

Lauren Pope
Email: lapope@fortlewis.edu

Questions related to HB22-1327:

Dr. Holly Kathryn Norton
Email: holly.norton@state.co.us