History Colorado issues executive summary on research 

Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School, Hesperus
Photo Credit: Courtesy of History Colorado

Reports on federal Indian boarding schools in state 

On September 1, 2023, History Colorado issued an executive summary of the research led by History Colorado’s State Archaeologist, Dr. Holly Norton, under House Bill 22-1327. This executive summary was written in accordance with the Federal Indian Boarding School Research Program Act (HB 22-1327), which was signed into law by Governor Jared Polis on May 24, 2022.  

HB 22-1327 directed History Colorado to investigate the lived experiences of students at the one-time federal Native American boarding school in Hesperus, Colo., also referred to as the Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School; as well as to identify potential burial places of students who perished while attending the school. 

An executive summary of the June 30 report and the recommendations has been provided to:  

  • Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA) 
  • The Southern Ute Indian Tribe 
  • The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe 
  • The Colorado State House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee 
  • The Colorado State Senate’s Judiciary Committee 
  • The Joint Budget Committee of the General Assembly of Colorado 
  • The Office of Governor Jared Polis 
  • The Board of Trustees of Fort Lewis College 

In addition to the executive summary and recommendations required by HB 22-1327, Dr. Norton provided the CCIA with progress reports on September 8, 2022, December 15, 2022, March 16, 2023, and June 1, 2023.  

Executive summary and recommendations 

The executive summary outlines the final report to the CCIA, which was delivered on June 30, 2023, entitled “Federal Indian Schools in Colorado, 1880-1920,” as well as recommendations for robust, long-term consultations to adequately determine programmatic recommendations for future actions.  

“The completion of this report represents just one step on the path to recognizing and reconciling the harm generations of Native individuals, families, and communities suffered as a result of federal schooling policy,” said Dr. Norton. “There are still years of thoughtful work ahead which includes community engagement, and culturally appropriate consultation with Indigenous peoples impacted by this tragic history.” 

History Colorado’s recommendations have come out of government-to-government consultations as well as conversations with state agencies and community groups. The summary also includes appendices providing a timeline of key moments and consultation dates as well as a synopsis of steps History Colorado took to fulfill the requirements of HB 22-1327, and a proposed budget for History Colorado’s recommendations. 

“A recurrent theme throughout this process has been the need for time; time to consult with the tribes, time to gather and synthesize the information and data, and most importantly time for the survivors and descendants of those impacted by, or who did not return from, these institutions to review and reflect upon this research,” said Dr. Norton.  

 Update on final report 

 In August of 2023 History Colorado provided copies of Dr. Norton’s final report under HB 22-1327 to additional tribes residing outside of Colorado impacted by the federal Indian boarding schools in Colorado.  

“Consistent with government-to-government relationships with tribal nations, the full results of this investigation have been released to the tribes who had children in attendance at these schools,” said Dawn DiPrince, President/CEO & State Historic Preservation Officer of History Colorado. 

The final report issued by Dr. Norton to CCIA will be publicly released on October 3, 2023, after the tribal nations impacted by this history have had time to review, reflect, and process its contents. 

“We acknowledge the destruction of this dark period in our shared history. We reaffirm that hatred, racism, fear, and violence have no place in Colorado’s future. The Polis-Primavera Administration is committed to partnering with tribal nations and American Indian/Alaska Native communities affected as we work together to address the intergenerational trauma and harmful impacts of the boarding school era. Colorado is part of the larger Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, and we are also supportive of dialogue and healing processes in other states and directly with the Federal Government,” said Governor Jared Polis and Lieutenant Governor Dianne Primavera. “As we continue to investigate the past atrocities and work to further understand the truth surrounding our state’s and country’s history, we must keep in mind that this painful history still impacts families across Colorado. We encourage those impacted to seek additional support through community resources and services. We thank History Colorado for their efforts on this report.”  

About the Office of Archaeology & Historic Preservation 

The Office of Archaeology & Historic Preservation (OAHP) is a part of History Colorado’s State Historic Preservation Office. Through the Office of Archaeology & Historic Preservation, History Colorado operates the office of the State Archaeologist which provides technical assistance, educational opportunities, and access to archaeology and historic preservation resources. The Office of Archaeology & Historic Preservation creatively engages Coloradans and their guests in partnerships to discover, preserve, and take pride in our architectural, archaeological, and other historic places by providing statewide leadership and support to our partners in archaeology and historic preservation. 

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