The American Indian Academy of Denver is a public charter school for students in grades six through ten. Several months ago, a group of teachers from the school visited Roxborough State Park and heard a historical program and wondered why the indigenous people of the area were not mentioned. Their experience inspired Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff to more fully reflect Native American culture and history in Roxborough and underscored the opportunity for all visitors to broaden their experience of Colorado’s relatively young state park system. – a system designed primarily for outdoor recreation.
Today, more than 2.5 million acres of land are managed by CPW, including 414 properties leased by State Trust Land benefiting hunters and anglers under the Public Access Program, 350 wildlife areas of state and 43 state parks. The latter includes 19,200 acres made available in 2020 to create Fishers Peak State Park near Trinidad and another 488 acres surrounding Sweetwater Lake in Garfield County which is set to become a one-of-a-kind state park in partnership with White River National Forest. .
This impressive array of properties includes conservation easements and access made available by cooperating private landowners and the Colorado State Land Board. Individually and collectively, these assets are wonderful playgrounds for outdoor enthusiasts. They also represent the long arc of human and cultural history and a platform from which to tell a fuller story about our beautiful state, including its indigenous heritage.
Understanding the significance of Colorado’s unique landscapes requires listening and learning. Another recent example is a lecture given at Lathrop State Park by Ravis Henry, a former Navajo, singer, healer, and holder of ancestral knowledge. He made the long trip to Walsenburg from Canyon de Chelly where Henry serves as an interpretive ranger and community outreach coordinator.
Henry told of the resilience of the Diné — the name the Navajo call themselves — as he described “The Long Walk,” a more than 300-mile march from northeastern Arizona to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, endured by men, women and children in the winter of 1864 when they were forcibly expelled from their home country by the United States government as it sought to expand its territory west of the Mississippi River. He then painted the dramatic scene when four years later, in 1868, the Diné were allowed to return to their ancestral homeland in the Four Corners region.
The next day, Henry held a silversmith workshop for children at the Lathrop Visitor Center. He provided nickel, silver and copper strips for children to stamp their own unique creations. Then he deposited and hammered their creations into a personalized bracelet, while sharing more of the history and culture of the Diné. Although scheduled for four hours, Henry graciously stayed all day as the activity grew in interest – reflecting a genuine desire from visitors to delve deeper into this special place and its history.
With new state parks coming to our system, there’s no better time to consider additional approaches to oral history programming and signage, land use planning, and site protection. Holy. A timely occasion occurred at the March meeting of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission where it discussed, updated, and approved its naming policy, expressing keen interest and commitment to ensuring that the names and descriptions of state parks, wildlife areas, trails, and other Colorado features are as culturally inclusive as possible.
With this new policy, the agency will work to increase awareness of Indigenous heritage and a fuller narrative of the vast network of critical lands, waterways and wildlife habitats that fall under CPW’s stewardship.
Thanks in part to a thoughtful group of teachers who spoke and the concerted efforts of CPW staff, visitors to Colorado state parks and other properties will have more and more opportunities to walk away with a broader historical understanding of the past while enjoying the present. and the preservation of these state treasures for countless future generations.
Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser is the 2021-22 president of the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commission. She lives in Glenwood Springs.