Nestled in the southwest of Colorado and east of Cortez, Fort Lewis College is a well-known institution of higher learning in the state with Durango, CO for an address. That said, the College has been going through a catharsis of change and reconciliation for the last few years due to its past when Colorado was still part of the West and maturing into the modern jurisdiction it is today.
In those days, the roaming activities of native tribes had ended a few decades before, and the remaining natives were restricted to government-run reservations. To break the traditions of tribal ancestry and assimilate younger generations faster into Colorado’s communities, tribal children were required to attend boarding schools to learn English, grammar, and math and “unlearn” their tribal customs and language. The practice continued into the early part of the 20th century, with Fort Lewis school as one of the state’s operations for the same. This same location was the genesis of what would later become Fort Lewis College.
Today, the institution is operating 180 degrees from its past. Native American students are promoted through indigenous history and cultural support, as well as provide full tuition support for higher education. As a result, the school is home to at least 150 different indigenous tribal members in its student body at any given time. That said, Fort Lewis College has also been proactive in supporting programs and reconciliation education to address its past and acknowledge what was done towards an indigenous culture which, at the time, was intended to wipe it out.
Now, both art programs and educational presentations are sponsored to help identify, illuminate, and give a transparent view of the school’s past history. It’s a sobering moment for many generations in Durango, both young and old. For decades, Fort Lewis alum thought of the College as a place where locals are able to pursue higher degrees of learning but still stay in the Colorado area for their careers and life plans. Dealing with the school’s history and past trauma can be an eye-opener for some, but it’s also a means by which younger generations come into their own being to make a mark on what Durango, CO will be as a community going forward as well.
Durango itself has been evolving town as well. While it sees a tremendous amount of tourism in the area as one of its industries, the townspeople also are very local and connected to each other. Retrospection is a regular occurrence for folks, and many still have deep roots in connections between families running generations deep in the area. That said, Durango also reflects change and the present as it brings in new businesses and ventures, including fairly new projects like a Durango cannabis store that operates out of a formerly local famous restaurant.
How history is used remains to be seen, but Fort Lewis College continues to have an influence on the local and regional area as an institution of learning, even if the lessons have to be painful reminders of the past to know how to behave in the future.