“I’m going to tell you a story about being in between. To be subject to society, a society written and designed by white man, by Western culture. I live where the road splits into what was one. Where Westerners see me as an ethnicity, a race with little to no say in how I can express myself and practice my culture. Just imagine a crosswalk with a completely different mindset and a completely different world. I cross the road of my reservation, the ‘rez ‘they call it, and put on my western clothes, my shoes and grab my traditional western handbag. I clear my throat and speak English with my mother tongue removed and I pretend I don’t care when I walk into a store built in my ancestral land and a white man looks at me to see if I am assimilated or a wild beast controlled by a non-western force of disobedience. “- Extract from the land recognition by NASO President Ashley Miles
Mission of the Amerindian student organization
November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the diverse cultures, traditions and histories of Native American tribes. CU Denver’s Native American Student Organization (NASO) encourages Indigenous students and their allies to give back to the community and become active leaders. Due to the uncertainty of COVID-19, this semester they are not holding membership meetings. Instead, they try to schedule multiple in-person events throughout the week to bring their community together.
It all started in 1970, when students Michael Running Wolf and Jim Nelson started a grassroots movement. Their goals were to meet the needs of current and future Native American students at CU Denver. This movement resulted in the development of NASO. Student leaders are held in high regard for traditional lifestyles expressed through leadership and cultural values.
NASO hopes to bring the Indigenous community together and create a safe place where they can celebrate their cultures and values ââand support the community. They give back to the community through activism and community service.
Meet some of the NASO members
Ashley Miles, current president of NASO, is from the Santa Ana Pueblo and Hopi tribes. She is a third year student majoring in Business Management and Biology at the Business School and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, respectively. She helps plan events and create safe spaces where people can meet. She also participates in the organizational tasks of the vice-president and the treasurer.
The CU Denver community is very diverse and strives to create a welcoming environment for all. On the other hand, it is inevitable for students from minority backgrounds to regret coming home from time to time. âI think it’s really important to connect with other people and keep going. It’s hard because we are walking on two roads. At school you present yourself in one way, while at home you are in another way. It’s difficult because you miss home, your identity, your culture, âsaid Miles. âThese emotional barriers are no small feat, but it’s all about giving back to the community. I put my people first. I don’t come to school just for myself.
Diego Padilla is a first year film and television major at the College of Arts and Media. He is part of the Chichimeca and Maya tribes. He joined NASO with the hope of being surrounded by other students who see the world in the same way. A common struggle among suburban students is the inability to feel a sense of community on their campus. Padilla is grateful to NASO for giving her a sense of belonging.
A big part of being Native American is the act of connecting with your Indigenous roots, Padilla said. âNot all of my ancestors were always connected. It is important for me to start this process for myself, for my children and for future generations, âhe said. Some ways to connect or reconnect are through community participation and knowledge exchange.
A note for the community
NASO is a safe space for all Indigenous peoples and their allies. With the Center for Identity and Inclusion, they welcome students with open arms. âIt’s always great to have outside help,â said Padilla. âAll students who feel they have a connection to Aboriginal people or want to know more are welcome. Make known. Help us set the record straight.
Creating a sense of community is more than sharing time and having similar interests. It’s about connecting with people and the natural environment. âThe Earth is part of us, it’s like our mother. We must be there for our Earth. It’s not about how much language or blood we have, it’s about being part of the community. That’s what it means to be Native American, âsaid Padilla. âOne of their strongest values ââis to see everything on an equal footing. No one or thing is better than the other. Our Earth and its inhabitants should be treated the same, with respect, equality and kindness. “
NASO Vice President Terrell Padilla is from the Navajo tribe. He is a third year student in communication at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Together, Miles and Terrell Padilla aim to create a safe space for all Indigenous students, where they can spend time together and share stories and knowledge.
Learn more about NAHO
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Center for Identity and Inclusion
Denver Indian Center