Find COVID-19 guidance, testing and vaccine information.


Native American Heritage Month Submissions 2021

Nov. 30, 2021

Native American Heritage Month

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month this November, our students share their celebrations of Native and Indigenous cultures. Explore the student submissions below.

Learn About Native American Heritage Month »

Meadow Contreras

14, Sicangu Lakota Tribe, Denver South High School

Meadow Contreras posing with her family

My name is Meadow Contreras and I am Sicangu Lakota and Chicana. I live in a Jewish suburban neighborhood. My family and I were always the only brown people anywhere we went. But we were never treated badly because of it. In fact, we were put on a pedestal because everyone loved our culture. And because we were commonly isolated from people who are also Native, my parents made sure we knew who we are and the purpose of our traditions. My mom was born and raised in the Rosebud reservation in a little community called Okreek. My dad lived in the same place for some time with his dad. My parents went to school together but didn’t start talking till they were both in Denver. My mom mainly moved away because she wanted her kids to have a better experience growing up with more opportunities and brighter future options. She moved away from everything she knew before she was an adult to make sure she made a difference for us.

I dance Jingle dress at any powwow we can go to, but I never did it to compete. Mostly for the medicine that comes along with it. Our dresses are made by our mother and we get a new one every year. However, I haven’t danced in 3 years because I am in mourning. In my peoples culture, when someone close to you dies, you cut your hair and you aren’t allowed to dance for 4 years, because you are in mourning. We cut our hair because we believe it is sacred and helps the spirit of our loved one have and easier journey to the spirit world. Next year, when I am allowed to again, I will have made my own dress and with fully beaded moccasins and leggings.

Recently this summer, we went to Sundance. My dad did it when he was younger with his dad and he wanted us to experience it. We camped in a tent all nights with no electricity or anything as such. We rose with the sun and went to a place called the Harbor, where the ceremony was held. As soon as you woke up, you heard the music coming from there. The men wore long pants and the women wore long skirts. As soon as you walked into the Harbor, you can feel the medicine and prayer surrounding the place and the people. Some of the things they did in sacrifice was kind of scary and quite intimidating at first, but once you realized it was done out of love and thankfulness for all they had, you realize how beautiful, meaningful, and sacred it is. It lasted all day and didn’t stop till the sun was fully down. Everything continued no matter how brutal the weather got. You were also not allowed to bring food or water down the the Harbor, even if you were just watching. The night before the whole ceremony begins, the sundancers would eat and drink tons of water to prepare for their fasting. After all the days, the camp held a huge feast for them. You were not allowed to take photos or have phones. The camp had no service to insure this.

My family has baked frybread the same way since it was introduced. My great grandmother had the original recipe and I believe she got it from her mother. She never shared it with anyone. Everyone in our community loved it and always tried to get it. But when my mom was old enough, my great grandmother gave it to her. She always kept it hidden and I never knew where she kept it. About a year or two ago, she gave it to my older sister.

Everyday, My mom sages the house and everyone in it. We were taught to always have good thoughts and intentions when around it. Us being Lakota, we mostly use sage and cedar. When the pandemic started, we took tobacco and tied a pinch into red fabric. We tied all the ties on a string and hung them at the top of the doors that enter the house. I believe there are 27 of them on top of each door. Tabaco is sacred and helps keep negative energy and sickness out. We were also taught that when you pick sage from the ground, you leave a pinch of tobacco from where you picked it as an offering to the Earth.

However just because we are away in a town with almost no Natives, we make sure to help the places with plenty as much as we could. We go back every summer to Okreek and we host a summer camp for the youth in hopes of preventing Suicides. The camp includes a lacrosse clinic hosted by my sister and afterwards, an art camp led by me. Kids are able to go to both parts or just one, if they wanted. We also provide a lunch. Before it gets cold in the winter, we collect new or lightly used winter coats and give them to kids in the schools in our community. Same thing with toys when it’s time for Christmas and cloths before each school year. My mother is also starting and early learning center/headstart for the kids in the community. Many of the parents don’t have access to transportation and the closest preschools are more than 19 miles away or more than 33 miles away, depending on which direction you go. Just because you live away from your people, does not mean that you can’t be connected to them and your culture that people tried to strip away from you countless times.

Andrue Davis

17, Sicangu Lakota Tribe, John F. Kennedy High School

Head shot of Andrue Davis

My grandma, she [plays] a big role in my culture. She makes fry bread and beads necklaces and smudges. My grandma is the culture in my family – she takes us to powwows and marches and any activity to support our Indigenous people so everything I know I really owe to her.

Jayde Tinker

12, Osage Tribe, American Indian Academy of Denver

Jayde Tinker standing in front of a wall

I felt really good after finishing my ribbon skirt and shawl. It was very enjoyable to create something I will use that is important not only to me but lots of people. I have had some hard times while making all the stitching and cutting of fabric but it was still a great memory I will keep for a long time. I have to thank my mom for getting me to the Indian Center every Thursday. Also thank you to Erlidawn for getting me into sewing and helping me learn to sew, I think it’s a great skill to have!

Mia and Amari Archambault

16 and 18, Standing Rock (Lakota/Dakota) Tribe, Denver North High School

Mia and Amari Archambault dancing a Native American dance

We are sisters from the Lakota/Dakota, Hunkpapa nation and enrolled in the Standing Rock tribe. Mia Archambault, 16 years old and Amari Archambault, 18 years old. We are Jingle Dress dancers and fell in love with this type of dancing when we were young children. The Jingle dress dance is known as the  Medicine dance because it was created by the Ojibwe people approximately 100 years ago following the flu pandemic. 

The story of the Jingle Dress dance is told about a medicine man having a dream about four women jingling dancing. His granddaughter was very ill and after this dream, his granddaughter gained the strength to dance and created a jingle dress to cure her sickness.

Our grandma made our dresses and that’s when our journey for dancing began. We went to powwows and watched other women,  including our older sisters Jingle dancing and watched their footsteps. We would dance behind them and slowly begin to dance ourselves. Today many women continue this tradition and dance at pow wows. They dance for the people, families, ancestors and for the love and fulfillment this dance brings to us.

Farrell B. Howell Elementary

Bianca Sharp, 2nd-grade Teacher

2nd grade Native American Heritage Month

In second grade we have been learning about Indigenous people in North American and Canada. We’ve read stories such as Fry Bread, Thunder Boy Jr., and non-fiction texts. Students have made connections and compared their lives to Indigenous girls and boys from our books. After reading the story Fry Bread some students went home and made fry bread from the recipe I provided them!

Denver Green School – Discovery Link

Nicole Leekela, Program Supervisor, Department of Extended Learning and Community Schools

Denver Green School Native American Heritage Month

Students at Denver Green School in Discovery Link did a SEAL activity where they heard a story about the symbolism of a dream catcher and drew their own. They wrote/drew in the bad things they wanted to trap or keep away and wrote/drew the good things they wanted at the bottom of their paper.