Colorado State University found itself apologizing earlier this month for how two prospective Native American students were treated during a campus tour. A week later at the University of Denver, where native students say they've felt invisible in the past, the annual Pow Wow has grown so large it has to be held in Magness Arena.
DU's Native Student Alliance hosted the eighth annual New Beginnings Pow Wow at Magness on May 12. The event, which celebrates culture, community and commencements, draws hundreds of attendees not just from DU, but from tribes across Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
"We started out as a traditional Pow Wow, it was there to bring the community together," said Viki Eagle, the director of DU's Native American Community Partnerships and Programs.
Eagle, who is Scangu Lakota, organized the Native Student Alliance when she was an undergraduate to increase visibility for Native students at the university.
"People didn't know that we were here, and that we were in classes here at a
predominantly white institution," Eagle said.
"My freshman year last year, I was the only Native American scholar who came in to
DU," echoed alliance member Raelene Woody. "I come from an Indian boarding school. I graduated high school from the Santa Fe Indian School. So coming to a predominantly white private institution was a big culture shock."
University of Denver's tangled Native American relations go straight to its roots. DU founder John Evans was also the co-architect of the Sand Creek Massacre, where U.S. troops mutilated or killed anywhere between 70 and 500 Cheyenne and Arapaho tribe members.
The Native Student Alliance provides supportive spaces for Native students and advocates on Native American issues. Last year the alliance raised the flags of four Cheyenne and Arapaho nations over DU to honor those killed at Sand Creek. When the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and Delta Delta Delta sorority hosted a cowboys-and-Indians party in 2012, the NSA fought for a public apology
It was after the university's Greek life incident that then-Chancellor Robert Coombe funded the New Beginnings Pow Wow for the first time, recognizing its potential impact. Before, alliance members paid for it out of pocket.
The Pow Wow continued to outgrow campus venues. The event's traditional dance competitions, artisan vendors and ceremonies moved into Magness for the first time this year.
The NSA adjusts the Pow Wow's theme year-to-year to highlight different Native issues. In 2017, the students honored the Standing Rock protests, while the 2018 Pow Wow was called "Super Highway" to recognize the expanding reach of the event.
But the New Beginnings Pow Wow always highlights the accomplishments of DU's Native students. Graduates are honored in a ceremony that distills the Pow Wow's mission to elevate Native students at the school.
"We can be Native students putting on a Pow Wow for the community, and we can also
show that we're graduating and successful," Eagle said. "We let our young people know that it's possible."