Mother Earth: Acknowledging Indigenous Homelands
Before becoming a college, Fort Lewis was a U.S. military post located in Hesperus, Colorado. The post was decommissioned in 1891. The U.S. government then refitted the vacant facility into a non-reservation boarding school, which operated from 1892 to 1910. Navajo, Ute, and Apache children were the first of many Indigenous children to attend the school. In 1911, the Federal government ceded the facility and 6,000 acres of land to the State of Colorado. Fort Lewis became a high school, then a two-year state agricultural college. In 1956, the school moved to Durango, where it transformed yet again into a four-year liberal arts college.
FLC’s history and sites may seem old to us, but they are actually quite young in terms of human occupation. In fact, FLC is placed squarely in the middle of vast and ancient overlapping ancestral Indigenous homelands.
In 2019, FLC consulted with many Tribes in the creation of an acknowledgement recognizing them as the original land stewards. This map is an illustration of that statement. Its overlapping borders sketch out nations that each Tribe considers not only their home, but the ancient wellspring of their spirituality and culture.
Historically, Europeans, (and eventually Euro-American white settlers) considered land to be a commodity that can be assigned to an individual owner, making hard borders and accurate mapping essential. For Indigenous peoples, land is sacred. The rights to occupy and utilize resources can be and were fought over, traded, or sold, but individualized ownership is not appreciated. Rather, a shared group stewardship, with a focus on preservation and continuance, is primary.
When Western mapping traditions were imposed, Indigenous place names were replaced with English or Spanish designations. This served to erase Indigenous presence from the land. Our purpose here is to reverse this erasure.
Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike may be seeing for the first time the complexity and expanse of the Indigenous homelands they are living on. Our hope is that this leads to further understanding and exploration of the history of colonialism and the real, lived history of Tribal peoples in our region. This, in turn, will inform decision-making in our contemporary society.
For additional information about these complex issues, please visit fortlewis.edu/land.
FLC PROJECT CONSULTANTS:
LEMANUEL BITSÓÍ, Associate Vice President for Diversity Affairs
MAJEL BOXER, Chair and Associate Professor of Native American & Indigenous Studies