Report finds Colorado was built on $1.7 trillion of land expropriated from tribal nations

A report released this week by a Native American-led nonprofit examines in detail the state and U.S. expropriation of $1.7 trillion of Native homelands in Colorado, and the state’s more than $546 million in mineral extraction harvested from it.

The report, first shared with The Associated Press, identifies 10 tribal nations that have “native, congressional, and treaty titles to lands in Colorado” and details the ways the land was legally and illegally taken. It found that many of the transactions were in direct violation of treaty rights or, in some cases, did not involve a legal transfer.

“Once we were removed, they just started dividing the land, creating parcels of land and selling it to non-Natives and other interests and corporations,” said Dallin Mayberry, an artist, legal scholar and enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe . served on the Truth, Restoration, and Education Commission, which compiled the report.

“If you think of examples of land theft,” Mayberry continued, “that’s one of the most egregious examples that we could see.”

The committee was convened by People of the Sacred Land, a Colorado-based nonprofit dedicated to documenting the history of indigenous displacement in the state. The commission and its report are modeled after similar truth and reconciliation commissions that sought to provide comprehensive accounting for genocide and the people who continue to be affected by these acts and government policies.

The report also recommends actions that can be taken by the state, federal government, and Congress, including respecting treaty rights by resolving illegal land transfers; compensating affected tribal nations; restoring hunting and fishing rights; and imposing a 0.1% fee on real estate transactions in Colorado to “mitigate the lasting effects of forced displacement, genocide and other historical injustices”

“If recognition is the first step, what is the second step?” Mayberry said. “That’s where some treaties come into the picture. They guaranteed us health, well-being and education, and we just want them to deliver on those promises.”

That could be something like what happened not long ago in Canada, where, following the conclusion of a truth and reconciliation commission in 2015, the government set aside $4.7 billion to support indigenous communities affected by the Indian residential schools.

The US currently does not have a similar commission, but a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan), a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, would create a commission to investigate and document its long-term effects the Indian boarding school system in the U.S. The measure passed the House Education and Workforce Committee on Thursday with bipartisan support.

“The United States pursued a federal policy of genocide and extermination against indigenous peoples, and its weapon against our youngest and most vulnerable was the Indian boarding school policy,” said Shawnee Tribe Chief Ben Barnes, who testified before Congress. support from a committee to investigate the lasting effects of the boarding schools.

“The next step is reconciliation and healing for the generations that have dealt with the subsequent trauma, which begins with establishing the Truth and Healing Commission to investigate further,” Barnes said.

The 771-page report also calls on Colorado State University to return 19,000 acres of land taken from several tribal nations through the Morrill Act, signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862, which used expropriated land to create land-grant universities across the country to establish.

In 2023, the university pledged to commit $500,000 of its land grant revenues. But while the commission praised that decision, it said there are “questions about its adequacy given the resources generated by the endowments created by selling and/or leasing stolen land.”

A university spokesperson told AP that the school has not had an opportunity to review the report, but noted that “those revenues from the land revenue endowment fund are used for the benefit of Native American faculty, staff and students.”

The committee also found that Native American students in Colorado have lower high school graduation rates and higher dropout rates than any other racial demographic group. It stipulated that state schools teach Native American issues only once in elementary school and then again in U.S. history classes in high schools, and it called on the Colorado Department of Education to expand the scope of its curriculum that focuses on the history, languages ​​and modern history. cultures of tribal nations indigenous to the state.

The Education Department said in a statement that it is “committed to uplifting and honoring our Indigenous communities.

“We worked with tribal representatives to create a culturally affirming fourth-grade curriculum focused on the fourth-grade Ute history curriculum and made it available to our school districts and teachers,” the statement said.

However, that curriculum is not mandatory throughout Colorado, where curriculum decisions are made at the local level.

A 2019 study found that 87% of US public schools fail to teach about Indigenous peoples in post-1900 contexts and most states fail to mention them in their K-12 curriculum .

“They should be an integral part of the curriculum, especially in areas with a high percentage of Native Americans,” said Richard Little Bear, former president of Chief Dull Knife College in Montana and a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. “There needs to be a full-throated effort.”


Brewer is an Oklahoma City-based member of AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on X at @grahambrewer