Russell Means, a prominent participant at a Buffalo Harvest ceremony at Fort Lewis College in southwest Colorado, had conversations with small groups.

Buffalo Harvest Sparks Dialogue at Colorado College

Carol Berry

Russell Means, iconic activist and long-time leader of the American Indian Movement, said he was proud of what Native American students at Fort Lewis College (FLC) were achieving as he addressed those attending a Buffalo Harvest ceremony at FLC March 16 to 18.

He and others talked about sovereignty and its meaning to the Indian community and also touched on themes of cultural preservation, permaculture, indigenous food supplies, and buffalo husbandry.

Members of the student Buffalo Council organized the ceremony and other events and discussed the fate of a 6,300-acre tract that was the site of Fort Lewis Indian School (Old Fort), a boarding school. The tract was given to the state of Colorado on condition it be used as an institution of learning free to Indian students.

A key concern participants raised was continuation of the tuition waiver FLC currently affords Native students, said Myron Dewey, Paiute-Shoshone, a spokesman for the event.

Two years ago Indian students were concerned that state budget constraints would threaten the Native tuition program, but it remained intact despite rising tuition costs statewide that continue to fuel Indian students’ concern about their program’s status.

A tuition-related House joint resolution of the Colorado General Assembly is currently under consideration. It would support proposed federal legislation to reimburse Colorado for the costs of federal mandates associated with the FLC Native American Tuition Waiver Program.

FLC “is one of the last remaining schools in the country that provides free tuition to tribal members,” the Buffalo Council said in a release. “It is one of five schools that still exists proving Indian education as a treaty right.”

More than 120 people came to Buffalo Harvest events, the council said, adding that FLC Board of Trustees members and State Land Board officials, although invited, did not attend. Conflict has arisen between the council and college officials over the council’s repeated requests for fiscal and other information about the Old Fort tract as well as FLC’s perceived reluctance to adopt a detailed plan for the tract developed by the council.

College officials released responses March 16 to “frequently asked questions” on issues at FLC raised by the council, including unhindered Old Fort access to unmarked ancestral burials, ceremonial sites, and others. The council also requested a complete audit of revenues generated from the property, a request the FAQ did not address.

“Currently there are no known Native American sacred sites recognized by the federal government or the State of Colorado located on the [Old Fort] property. However, groups such as the Fort Lewis College Pejuta Tipi Society do hold religious ceremonies on the property,” the FAQ state, noting that college and state officials are working with student groups to be sure access is maintained.

No Native American burial sites have been confirmed at the Old Fort, according to the FAQ, but as the FAQ state: “unmarked graves are possible.”

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