Honoring Native American Heritage

Nov. 2, 2020

We know that the lived experiences we celebrate during Native American Heritage Month are not limited to just a month or day. This effort is aimed to bring awareness to the moment, but not to silence its everyday importance. We also recognize that the voices and experiences of one member of a community may not reflect everyone in that community’s voice or experience. Our intention is to hold space for the many diverse perspectives within our DPS community.

Indigenous peoples are the first Americans. Today, many are citizens of sovereign Tribal nations as well the United States. In Colorado, we occupy the traditional and ancestral homelands of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute Nations, and acknowledge this with respect. 

Individuals choose to identify with their Native heritage differently, whether through their tribe, culture or general terms such as Native or Indigenous. 

“Organizations generally use ‘Native’.   I prefer to use my Nation:  ‘I am a citizen of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Nation.’  We are sovereign Nations, but have external controls, a complex situation…” 

– Rose McGuire, Senior Manager of DPS Native American Culture and Education 

Native American Heritage Month, established during the month of November, was formalized in 1990 by the U.S. government to recognize the significant contributions of Native Americans to the establishment and growth of the country. In DPS, we are honoring this cultural moment with celebration of our Native community and through learning. Members of our DPS community are sharing about their culture to celebrate Native American Heritage Month:

Sheldon Spotted Elk (Netsevoto – Eagle Tail Feathers)

I am a father of two sons, Isaac (ninth grade) and Roman (sixth grade). 

My name is Sheldon Spotted Elk (Netsevoto — Eagle Tail Feathers) and we are (Tsitsistas) Northern Cheyenne Tribal members originally from Lame Deer, Montana. We now live in the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver, the ancestral lands of our and the Arapaho peoples. We are direct descendants of survivors of the Sand Creek massacre from 1864. Our surname Spotted Elk (Mo’oh Vovo’hasestse) comes from the two year old baby, my great grandfather, who survived that horrific event. 

I currently work nationally with some of the 574 federally recognized Tribes on issues related to child and family justice issues, specifically, the approximately 400,000 children in foster care and the disproportionate amount of American Indian/Alaska Native children in the child welfare system. I get to work with colleagues who are challenging that system, and pushing for reform for better impacts for our communities. 

My boys are proud to be Tsitsistas and Spotted Elks. We enjoy going to Isaac’s band concerts and watching Roman play basketball and football.

Three people

Morning Star Yazzie

My name is Morning Star Yazzie and I would like to say Cante’ waste’ nape ciyuzapi – I greet you with a warm heart and handshake. I am a senior at Denver North High School where I am a fourth-year Lakota language student. I am an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Nation and Navajo. I am very proud of who I am and where I come from.

I am a Northern Traditional dancer and have been dancing since I could walk. The style of Women’s Northern Traditional dance that I do is a stationary dance that involves a bouncing step, rhythmically dipping to the beat of the drum. It is a good feeling and more than just a dance to me. It is a connection to my culture and a way to honor my ancestors, and dance for the ones who cannot dance. I enjoy keeping my culture alive by dancing at powwows with my family and staying involved in my community.

After I graduate, I plan to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM to study Cinematic Arts and Technology.

Morning Star

Jason Watson (Chickasaw Nation)

I’m proud to call myself a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, as opposed to the generalized designation of Native American or the pejorative Indian. My Chickasaw ancestors had diplomatic relations and negotiated treaties as citizens of a sovereign Chickasaw Nation, on equal footing with the United States. Although United States treaties with the original nations of this land were signed on a sovereign to sovereign basis, the U.S. popular narrative ever since has utilized language and imagery intended to complete the colonization process by erasing all traces of Native American sovereignty, leaving it in name only on broken treaties. As a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, my descendants were forced from their homelands under the Indian Removal Act, many raped and murdered on what is known today as the Trail of Tears.

Every day for me is Native American Heritage Month, because every day I wake up Chickasaw and think about what my ancestors went through for me to be here today. I also take great care every day to use language and actions that honor the sovereign Native American nations of this land as well as the contributions of their citizens. I hope you will join me this month, and every day moving forward in also honoring and recognizing Native Americans and their contributions to this community and this country.

Jason Watson

DPS is home to around 1,000 Native American/Alaska Native students, many of whom experience two worlds in their day-to-day lives as they navigate the Denver community but still have a strong cultural identity with their tribal Nations. Our Native American Culture and Education team supports culturally responsive approaches and practices to promote academic success and overall well-being. Follow the team on Facebook.