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The history of Fort Lewis College is interwoven with the history and people of southwest Colorado and the Four Corners area—it is unique among the educational institutions in this country. It is the history of this institution that has shaped the college that overlooks Durango today and serves thousands of students every year.
Fort Lewis College exists to provide the same exceptional educational opportunities to every student who walks through the doors of any campus building.
Preceding on-campus events, the following land acknowledgement is read for guests, to honor and respect the land on which we gather:
"We acknowledge the land that Fort Lewis College is situated upon is the ancestral land and territory of the Nuuchiu (Ute) people who were forcibly removed by the United States Government. We also acknowledge that this land is connected to the communal and ceremonial spaces of the Jicarilla Abache (Apache), Pueblos of New Mexico, Hopi Sinom (Hopi), and Diné (Navajo) Nations. It is important to acknowledge this setting because the narratives of the lands in this region have long been told from dominant perspectives, without full recognition of the original land stewards who continue to inhabit and connect with this land. Thank you for your attention and respect in acknowledging this important legacy. "
The first Fort Lewis army post was constructed in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, in 1878, and was relocated in 1880 to Hesperus, Colorado, on the southern slopes of the La Plata Mountains. In 1891, Fort Lewis was decommissioned and converted into an off-reservation federal Indian boarding school.
In 1911, the fort's property and buildings in Hesperus were transferred to the state of Colorado to establish an "agricultural and mechanic arts high school." That deed came with two conditions: that the land would be used for an educational institution, and was “to be maintained as an institution of learning to which Indian students will be admitted free of tuition and on an equality with white students” in perpetuity (Act of 61st Congress, 1911). Both conditions have been the Fort Lewis school's missions and guides over the past century.
In the 1930s, the Fort Lewis high school expanded into a two-year college, and in 1948 became Fort Lewis A&M College, under control of State Board of Agriculture. The "Aggies" studying at the Fort Lewis Branch of the Colorado State College of Agriculture & Mechanics could chose from courses including agriculture, forestry, engineering, veterinary science, and home economics.
Fort Lewis underwent another period of growth and changes starting in 1956, when the college moved from its long-time home in Hesperus to its present location, 18 miles east, atop what was then known as Reservoir Hill, overlooking Durango. Here, Fort Lewis College became a four-year institution, awarding its first baccalaureate degrees in 1964.
Also in 1964, the college separated from the State Board of Agriculture and dropped the "A&M" moniker. At that time, the new Fort Lewis College also changed its mascot from "Aggies" to the "Raiders," and changed the school's colors from the green and yellow of the Colorado State University system it had been affiliated with to the blue and gold it still sports today. In 1994, the college's mascot became the Skyhawks, retaining the blue and gold.
In 1995, Fort Lewis College joined the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, and in 2002, the College became independent of the Colorado State University system, and formed its own governing Board of Trustees. In 2005, the Colorado state legislature raised the college's admission standards, making it a "selective" college.
In 2008, Fort Lewis was designated as one of six Native American-serving, non-tribal colleges by the U.S. Department of Education. Because of its unique origins as a military fort turned federal Indian boarding school turned state public school, and following the 1911 mandate to provide a tuition-free education for students from any federally recognized Native American tribe, Fort Lewis College today awards more degrees to Native American students than any other four-year, baccalaureate-granting institution in the nation—about 26% of all degrees awarded.