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How to Connect With Colorado’s Indigenous Cultures

Places to learn about Native history, art, food, and more.

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The original citizens of Colorado, including the Arapaho, Apache, Cheyenne, Ute, Pueblo, and Shoshone, each have unique and complex histories, traditions, arts, and people. To expand your family’s understanding of Native heritage, during Native American Heritage Month and throughout the year, check out these resources.

In and Around Denver

The Indigenous Arts of North America exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, which recently reopened after the north building renovation, includes a “Home/Land” section focusing on the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute peoples’ family life in the past and present. The museum also has a Native Artist-in-Residence program that connects the public directly to contemporary Indigenous perspectives. Visitors of all ages are invited to contribute to a community-driven project that will help Navajo artist Steven Yazzie tell the story of Denver through collective experiences.

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Colorado History Center’s Written on the Land exhibit features Ute beadwork, clothing, basketry, and contemporary crafts. Hear elders tell the traditional story of the Bear Dance and see instruments and regalia used in the Bear Dance today. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation provided insights to bring this exhibit to the public.

Tocabe, a fast-casual restaurant with ingredients sourced from Native and Indigenous producers, serves up authentic dishes like fry bread Indian tacos, posu (wild rice) bowls, and bison ribs. It’s American Indian owned and operated with a goal of telling a cultural story through food. Their online Indigenous Marketplace features Native and Indigenous ingredients cultivated across the country that families can add to their pantry. Locations in north Denver and Greenwood Village.

Out West

The Ute Indian Museum in Montrose pays tribute to the history, adaptation, and persistence of the land’s ancestral and contemporary people. Exhibits tell a story of Ute mastery of natural resources, cultural survival amidst encroaching settler influences, and the timelessness of the annual Bear Dance. Kids will love exploring the large shelters outside, creating their own vibrant bead patterns, and inspecting the many shiny or intricately carved wares in the Native artisan-sourced gift shop. Learn how to make a loom bracelet or a keychain, take a twilight tour of an important rock art site, or cozy up around a fire to hear stories; these events are on the museum’s calendar for November.

At Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park in Towaoc (southwest of Mesa Verde), visitors can take full-day or half-day tours viewing rock art, surface sites, and cliff dwellings. Learn from Ute Indian guides about the Weeminuche band of Ute Mountain peoples, how they’ve lived on and taken care of the land. Be sure to fill up the gas tank (a half-day round-trip tour is 40 miles and full-day is 80), and pack food, water, sunscreen, and sturdy hiking shoes for the longer trip. Tours are offered to the public from late April to October; camping and cabin rentals are also available.

Down South

The Southern Ute Reservation, six hours south of Denver, has a museum that tells stories of the Southern Ute Tribe from early times to the present, with attractions such as a full-size tipi and replica house and schoolroom. The area’s Sky Ute Fairgrounds hosts fairs and powwows, plus rodeos and horse/cattle shows. Lake Capote offers camping and fishing opportunities. Visit respectfully by paying attention to signage, honoring the privacy of residential communities, and asking permission before photographing.

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At Home

The Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs offers five units of lesson plans for fourth grade students online. Topics include Ute history, the peoples’ nomadic lifestyle, cultural heritage, social structures, and tribal government.

Watch K-12 educational videos from the Tesoro Cultural Center, which help viewers understand the movements and power dynamics of people in Colorado history. Specific curriculum and activity packets covering the Kiowa people (whose territory sometimes extended into what’s now Colorado) are available.

Longmont-based First Nations Development Institute offers a recommended book list for kids preschool through high school. After reading Native-authored titles, take action with the guide’s 10 ways to make a difference. Don’t miss the institute’s recipe page, where you can learn how to make Three Sisters soup, double cornbread muffins, and fry bread.

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