Empowering Our Future by Reclaiming Our Rich History

Published: October 26, 2021

October 10, 2021 – Boardhawk

We, the passionate educators at American Indian Academy of Denver, are on a mission to help our children reclaim the genius of our ancestors. We’re in our second year as a charter school in the Denver Public Schools. By building a school of mirrors and windows we want our Indigenous students to be able to see themselves in what they’re learning, and in who they’re learning from.

On Monday October 11th the United States will observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Our people have been scientists, builders, artists, and mathematicians since time immemorial. This cultural legacy was given to us by our forebears and we work to bring that cultural legacy to our kids every day of the school year –  in a 21st century format – so that they can carry it into their future.

Metropolitan Denver is home to some 40,000 Native Americans representing 200 tribes. Because we live across the Front Range – scattered to the winds – most people don’t know we’re here. As one of the first cities to participate in the federal relocation program in the 1950s and 1960s, Denver drew Native people from around the country who were encouraged to move to urban areas as the government sought to end the protected trust status of all Indian-owned lands.

A member of the Gnoozhekaaning Anishinaabe tribe in Michigan, my mom came to Denver after surviving institutionalization at an Indian boarding school. She, like so many other Native boarding school students, was deeply impacted by this forced experience. The 2014 White House Native Youth Report states that, “the legacy of these misdeeds haunts us. The trauma of shame, fear and anger has passed from one generation to the next…” A legacy that has never been rectified or remedied.

While I’ve spent my career in Indian education, it wasn’t until I visited the Native American Community Academy (NACA) in Albuquerque that I realized what was possible for my community in Denver. With its strong focus on cultural identity and academic preparedness, NACA has successfully closed achievement gaps for Native students and consistently outperforms surrounding schools. The excellent graduation, college entrance and retention rates at NACA have held steady as the school celebrates its 17th year.

Read more from Terri Bissonette, American Indian Academy of Denver Founder and Principal, in Boardhawk.