Opinion | Linda Harmon: There’s a new school for Ute Tribe children, and it’s about time | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Linda Harmon: There’s a new school for Ute Tribe children, and it’s about time

Linda Harmon
Positive Progressive Thinking

It is very unsettling to learn generations of Ute children were taken away from their homes so they could be taught to assimilate into the Anglo-American culture. But today, thanks to Summit County’s Keystone Policy Center and the state of Colorado’s Response, Innovation and Student Equity — or RISE — fund, there is good news. A new school for Ute Tribe children and their families just opened. I’m delighted because this is very personal for me since I come from Native American heritage.

The Kwiyagat Community Academy will be in the Ute Mountain Reservation near the Four Corners Monument and Sleeping Ute Mountain, a sacred mountain for the Utes. Manuel Heart, chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, said “In the past, generations of our grandfathers and our parents, a lot of our students were taken away from our homes, and they were taught to assimilate into the system.”

The irony of Native American children being taken from their homes to adapt into the very structure that was responsible for stealing their land and murdering their people is mind-numbingly stupid. It smacks of the ultimate white supremacy over Indigenous people who lived on this continent and in this state long before it became the United States. Additionally upsetting is that few people know this type of indoctrination happened, even recently.

The Keystone Policy Center is leading the way to address this vital issue that will help mold future generations. For two years, Keystone Policy Center has worked with the Ute Mountain leaders to plan for this school.

“We are eager to now shift from planning to development and implementation at the direction of the Tribal Council,” said Millie Hamner, senior policy director for the center and leader of the RISE project.

Keystone Policy Center will facilitate an innovative, culturally based education system for the students and the families who live on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation. Their plan is to bring levels of education and a curriculum focused on science, technology and engineering to give Native American children the broad-based foundation they need to excel in the workplace of the future.

The Ute Tribe’s commitment to making sure the students know their true history is essential to future success. A central part of the education plan is to integrate Ute arts, language and culture into all levels of education and curriculum.

While there are residents in Summit County who might not agree with putting state money toward this type of program, Ute Tribe leadership not surprisingly has been very gracious and grateful for the opportunity.

“It was a very blessed day for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe when we received word that we were awarded the RISE grant from the state of Colorado from the office of Gov. Polis,” Heart said. “This is what a true government-to-government relationship should be through this partnership.”

Some Summit County residents might not be aware or want to believe in the atrocities committed by the white pioneers. While the Utes are the oldest residents of Colorado, in the mid-1800s, white European colonists and gold prospectors killed, pressured and forced the Ute people off their ancestral lands. Before being moved on to U.S. government reservations, they lived off the land. They possessed a set of central values and had a highly developed society. During 1865 to 1872, many were slaughtered by U.S. forces, and in the late 1800s, they were moved to the Southern Ute and Mountain Ute reservations in Colorado. Very few of the Ute people are left. The Ute Mountain Reservation, where the new school has opened, has only about 2,000 Utes remaining, living with limited resources.

While this academy does not erase the injustices of the past, at least the Keystone Policy Center and the state of Colorado are moving in the right direction. Polis and the Keystone Policy Center should receive heartfelt congratulations and appreciation for trying to make up for many unethical and criminal actions during the past two centuries.

With the opening of this academy, many more Ute children and their families will have the opportunity to learn new subjects that could help them achieve the American dream, even if the American dream we know today was not what their ancestors envisioned.

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