Going beyond land acknowledgements for Native Heritage Month

Nov. 1, 2022

Metropolitan State University of Denver recognizes that its campus sits upon the ancestral homelands of the Tsitsistas “Cheyennes” and Hinónóéí “Arapahos.”

That land acknowledgement appears in the University’s 2030 Strategic Plan and versions of it appear at campus events and on the MSU Denver website, further recognizing that 48 different Native Nations have called the land of the Auraria Campus home.

While it is important that we acknowledge the original inhabitants of the land where our campus sits, universities can go beyond acknowledgements and actively serve modern-day Native Americans who are underrepresented on campuses across the country. While 41% of Americans aged 18-24 are enrolled in higher education, that figure drops to just 24% for college-aged Native Americans.

Land acknowledgements are a starting point, but history should do more than inform – it should also influence our actions and inspire us to do better. Native Heritage Month in November is a good time to assess how we’re honoring Native peoples.

At MSU Denver, we worked to make college more accessible to Native students this year by ensuring the cost of their tuition and mandatory fees is fully covered through a combination of federal, state and institutional grants. This semester, the University has awarded Indigenous and Native Peoples’ Grants to 63 students.

The Auraria Campus hosted a tri-institutional Pow Wow following the Native and Indigenous Specialty Graduation Celebration in May 2022.
The Auraria Campus hosted a tri-institutional Pow Wow following the Native and Indigenous Specialty Graduation Celebration in May 2022.

One such student, Isabella Vigil, is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation majoring in Biochemistry who plans to go to medical school. Isabella was planning to pay her way to a school further away from home, but by choosing MSU Denver and having her tuition covered she was able to live at home, keep her job in the health care industry and focus on her studies. She credits the one-on-one support of our Peer Mentoring Program with helping her get acclimated to college in her first semester, and I’m confident she’ll be very successful on campus and in her future in the medical field.

To further aid students like Isabella, we hired a temporary full-time program coordinator to work directly with students and applicants and organize a Native Community Advisory Council. We want MSU Denver to be a welcoming place for Native students where they feel fully supported throughout their academic journey with us, and we’re continually working to improve in that regard.

MSU Denver has some great programs scheduled for November such as a talk on “the Truth about Thankstaking” and a meet and greet with Native Indigenous Program Coordinator Deserea Richards. Thank you to the Native Indigenous Student Alliance for teaming up with student support departments such as our Center for Multicultural Engagement and Inclusion to deliver these great events and build community for our students.

Native students are an important part of the Roadrunner family, and we’re proud to invest in your success!


Janine Davidson, Ph.D.
President, MSU Denver