Lawmakers propose a bill to reauthorize Colorado’s Indian boarding school research program

Listen Now
25min 42sec
Courtesy of Denver Public Library
Native American Ute children walk to the Southern Ute Agency school dining hall, Ignacio, La Plata County, Colo.

Updated Monday April 14, 2024 at 1 p.m.

State lawmakers are proposing to continue research into the legacy of federal boarding schools where Native American children were abused and forced to abandon their culture.

A new bill would allocate an additional $1 million from Colorado’s budget to reauthorize the federal Indian boarding school research program for the next three years.

The state’s initial research program was signed into law two years ago to, in the words of the new bill, “conduct research regarding the physical abuse and deaths that occurred at federal Indian boarding schools in Colorado.” It required History Colorado, in consultation with the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs as well as the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes to develop recommendations to better understand the abuse that occurred and to support healing in tribal communities.

The first effort had a budget of just over $600,000 and culminated in a report, that identified nine institutions that attempted to forcibly assimilate Native children, both from tribes in Colorado and from neighboring states.

In addition to continuing that research, this year’s bill would allow officials to implement the recommendations developed in the initial report.

Those recommendations include:

  • The collection of oral histories of survivors that highlight indigenous narratives;
  • Develop further recommendations to the departments of education and higher education to support education for Native communities;
  • Developing further recommendations to the Department of Human Services and other state agencies on how to address the health, mental health, economic, and other impacts of the boarding school system

(Note: This summary applies to this bill as introduced.)

The bill is sponsored by Democratic Rep. Barbara McLachlan and Leslie Herod in the House and Sen. Jeff Bridges, a Democrat, and Sen. Cleave Simpson, a Republican. It is slated to get a first hearing in the House Education Committee on April 18.

"History Colorado supports ongoing efforts to address the historical impacts of the federal education system in Colorado and to reckon with this challenging chapter of our Nation's history," said Dawn DiPrince, president of the state's historical society, in a statement. "HB24-1444 will allow for a long-term commitment to Tribal consultation on this issue as well as opportunities to listen and learn from Indigenous communities with the goal of creating Tribally-informed recommendations for resolutions and reconciliation."