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Southern Ute Tribe. Image courtesy of Pinterest, Native American tribes.

At a time when schools, governments, product companies, and other institutions have finally stepped back from the use of Native American symbols as school mascots and organizational brands, Colorado has stepped up to allow Native Americans to claim their heritage in an honorable and culturally respectful manner.

On Thursday, May 4 in a ceremony at the state capitol, Governor Jared Polis signed two bills into law that protect the cultural rights of Indigenous people and their cultural heritage.

SB23-211 Federal Indian Child Welfare Act Of 1978 – Representatives Barbara McLachlan and Elizabeth Velasco, Senators Jessie Danielson and Dominick Moreno

The bill adopts federal regulations concerning the “Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978” as state law so that Colorado will continue to ensure that Indian children are protected in cases of guardianship and adoption. The bill went through six amendment adjustments before being approved by both legislative bodies.

While adoption is an admirable step to protect a child, the tribes have objected to Native American children being adopted or acquiring guardianships by those of other races, because it too can contribute to the child becoming disconnected from his/her culture and heritage.

Over many decades, Colorado, like many western and Midwestern states had Indian Boarding schools to which reservation children were sent. These schools contributed to the erasing of the Native American tribal cultures and several have been found to have been abusive environments for Native American children.

Southern Ute Powwow. Image courtesy of Ft. Duchesne.

SB23-202 Wearing Of Native American Traditional Regalia – Representatives Barbara McLachlan and Elizabeth Velasco, Senators Jessie Danielson and Sonya Jaquez Lewis

Just in time for high school and college graduations, the bill requires a school or school district to allow a qualified student to wear and display traditional Native American regalia at a school graduation ceremony.

Protections were already in place to prevent schools from using Native American terms to name their schools, or define their sports teams or mascots, unless they got the approval of the tribe to use the name. Such is the case with Arapahoe High School in Littleton, Colorado.

Here in Chaffee County, this is historically Southern Ute hunting territory. The school districts have long-standing mascot names of The Demons and The Spartans — so no problems from hell — or from Greece.