ARD illustration of a line drawing of a person with a hovering question mark and scribbled lines in a text bubble.

Study Hall: ‘How Can I Honor the Indigenous People Whose Land I Occupy?’

I just moved to Denver, Colorado over the weekend and this prompted me to look up what tribes originally owned the land that South central Denver sits on. Apparently, it was the Southern Ute/Mountain Ute tribes and the Cheyenne and

Arapaho people. It’s a sobering reality. I hope to honor them with how I think and behave while living here. Do you have any practical suggestions for how I can bring awareness to my local community about this?”

We all have a responsibility to learn the history of the land we occupy and the people who were displaced. We also can learn how to repair and right the wrongs of those who came before us. It’s easy to dismiss that second part simply because you weren’t the one that created the initial harm. When we do this, we ignore how, presently, we are benefitting from that displacement that has reverberated down generations of Indigenous and Native people who continue to face injustices from that initial harm, including limited to no access to clean water and housing issues as a result.

It’s important to have these conversations and do the work so that we don’t continue to perpetuate harm, but this cannot be done in the absence of the tribes and Indigenous people of that region.

Indigenous people don’t just reside on reservations or remote regions throughout the country; many live in urban areas and probably exist within your community and are already doing the work. If you are unaware of your region’s local Indigenous tribes, visit your local library or community resource center for information. This Native Land map can also be helpful.

So I encourage you to first check in with that specific Indigenous community, be it the local Indigenous-led organization, activists, and/or the actual tribe/nation themselves, and follow their lead. What needs, demands, and information are they putting out? What are they asking or wanting the non-Native community to do? Are they asking for land rematriationland tax/rent, or rematriation of seeds? Or want a local resource or plant integral to their culture to be restored or used more sustainably? Are there preservation or restoration efforts that you can be a part of? Are there resources or an event that they want shared or an issue that they’re mobilizing around that you can boost and participate in? Or an initiative to support, like a policy (local, state, or federal) that they want passed or blocked? 

From there, you can fill those needs, contact elected representatives, write letters to the editor, rally around these issues, share amongst the rest of the community, etc.—depending on what is being asked. 

As we reckon with the harms inflicted on Indigenous people and work to support and honor them, we must ensure they have the means and the platform to share their own stories and speak their truth. I believe that to truly honor the local tribes and Indigenous and Native people (beyond land rematriation), we must ensure those who still remain have what they need not only to exist but to thrive. And it is through their continued presence on that land that acts as the best form of awareness.

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