Guest commentary: Walking as one — Reflecting on history and seeking wisdom in a new year
For many, one of the great outcomes of the pandemic is the reawakening of gratitude in our daily lives. This is certainly true for Colorado Mountain College. During this extraordinary time, our team at CMC deeply appreciates the kindness and resiliency of our communities and the significance of the transformative endowments bestowed upon our institution.
Colorado Mountain College routinely recognizes the generosity of pioneering visionaries who established the college decades ago. These intrepid individuals and the communities in which they lived gave CMC tremendous physical and financial resources to build an authentic, mission-focused institution designed to ensure that the residents of a rugged and remote swath of Colorado have access to post-secondary education, workforce training, lifelong learning and forums for rich dialogue and debate.
Throughout its history, CMC has had many occasions to honor those who made the college possible and the impact they have had on hundreds of thousands of students who have passed through our doors. We are truly grateful. And yet, the pandemic has further exposed certain communities in America that are too often overlooked, marginalized and underappreciated.
As an institution with a purpose to instill wisdom and knowledge, CMC has a responsibility not only to honor those who shaped our immediate history, but also to accurately acknowledge ancient forebears who cherished the lands on which CMC now operates – long before ranchers and miners journeyed west, before Colorado was even a state, and before Spanish explorers first arrived in our region.
For thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans in the 1600s, bands of Indigenous people inhabited western Colorado. To the Ute people, the mountains, valleys and rivers here were sacred and life-enabling places. Importantly, the Ute people never believed they “owned” the land. Rather, these historically nomadic people were “of the land.” Like the birds, animals and fish, they benefited from bountiful air, water, sunshine and soil in our region.
CMC hasn’t adequately appreciated the heritage, legacy and wisdom of the Ute peoples, nor sufficiently created space to understand and dignify their traditions, recognize their influences on the regions we love, and appreciate their perspectives on stewardship and living in harmony with the natural world long before the college existed.
Colleges and universities around the country have been offering pro-forma “land acknowledgments” in various forms in recent years. These affirmations are often mentioned in speeches or on websites or appear as plaques on buildings or designated areas on campuses to recognize aboriginal groups who occupied a place or geographic area. CMC is no different.
These are fundamental and sincere gestures, but they are symbolic only. Looking ahead, it is important to contemplate, “Can we do more?”
Can we correct historical omissions, more accurately describe the story of our region and recognize the very real implications of cultural marginalization, particularly those events that preceded the current generation? Can we open our minds to invite Indigenous perspectives to shape and inform the college’s future? Can we more authentically engage an enduring dialogue to appreciate stewardship of our lands and manage them in ways that honor native traditions and people? Most important, can we meaningfully repair past injustices?
To explore these questions, and ones that have not yet been asked or contemplated, Colorado Mountain College will embark upon a yearlong journey of learning and growth. On Monday, Jan. 17, in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, CMC has invited Ernest House Jr., senior policy director at the Keystone Policy Center and member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in Towaoc, Colorado, to help the CMC community frame and initiate our path forward.
Dr. King once said our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. For CMC, it matters that we accurately understand the past. It matters that we manage our lands in ways that respect the traditions and expectations that preceded the college. And it matters that we teach our students to recognize and reflect upon injustice and give them tools to do something about it.
A Native American proverb, often attributed to the Utes, says, “Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Walk beside me that we may be as one.” All are invited to join our MLK Jr. Day discussion with Mr. House and walk beside the college’s faculty, staff and students so that we may all experience the journey as one. For more information about this public Zoom event, go to ColoMtn.me/MLKevent.
Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser is president & CEO of Colorado Mountain College. She can be reached at email@example.com or @CMCPresident.
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