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By Anna Alejo
/ CBS Colorado
The 2020 US Census found more than 100,000 Coloradans self-identified themselves as Native American.
And most of them live along the Front Range.
Preparing for large community events ahead of the winter holidays, the Denver Indian Center is as focused as ever on meeting the needs of a diverse group of people, representing many tribal nations. Coloradans often express surprise at how large the Indigenous community is here.
“Invisibility is probably our biggest challenge,” said Rick Waters, executive director of the Denver Indian Center. “But the invisibility of the American Indian community is the misunderstanding or the not understanding who we are.”
Denver was one of the first cities to participate in the federal relocation program initiated over 60 years ago.
Native Americans were encouraged to move to urban areas as the government sought to end the protected trust status of Indian lands.
“In the late 50s and in the 60s you had thousands of American Indians moving into Denver from the High Plains states, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana then of course New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma,” Waters described.
The Denver Indian Center provides vital social services to the Indigenous community.
Including workforce development, parenting, and peer support.
Some of this is undoing the harm brought on by previous U.S. government initiatives.
“The family is very important to American Indians and through the reservation system, the boarding schools, to the federal Relocation Act, the breakup of the family was one of the consequences and collateral damage to that,” Waters said.
He adds that Native Americans have hopes and dreams similar to all Coloradans.
And they also offer a unique perspective.
On everything from climate change to promoting more civil discourse in government.
As the Lakota say, “we’re all related.”
“Before it was Denver, before it was Colorado – this was Indian country and we have a very special tie to the land and all that involves,” Waters said.
On Saturday, the Denver Indian Center will be distributing food to the community ahead of Thanksgiving.
Learn more at https://denverindiancenter.org/
Anna Alejo is CBS News Colorado’s Executive Producer of Community Impact. She works with the news team to develop more grassroots relationships across communities and more original content at the neighborhood level, ensuring diverse voices are represented in programming.
First published on November 17, 2023 / 5:12 PM MST
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