GREELEY, CO--About 500 people attended the University of Northern Colorado’s second annual Pathways to Respecting American Indian Civil Rights training conference Wednesday and Thursday. The focus of the conference was to educate on the issues affecting American Indians. Topics included violence against women, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and environmental justice.
“This conference is extremely informative, and we need to come together like this more to keep our heritage alive,” attendee Dora Esquibel, who is Apache said.
One of the conference’s first speakers, Monty Roessel, superintendent of the Rough Rock Community School District in Arizona and a Navajo American Indian, said he tries to instill American Indian heritage and stories in Navajo students. Roessel’s district incorporates Navajo language and culture into the daily curriculum and school environment.
“The most difficult obstacle in my district is the student’s apathy toward education,” Roessel said. “Who you are contributes to your success, so students need to have math skills, as well as knowledge of being Navajo. It’s time we listen to our stories and find a way to bring them in our classrooms.”
The conference continued with breakout sessions including information on non-discrimination in employment, employment opportunities through tribal employment rights offices, sexual violence in the lives of native women, the modern HIV epidemic and challenges to tribal rights and sovereignty.
The breakout session on civil rights, Justice Track: Enforcing Civil Rights at the Local Level: A Community-Based Approach, gave participants alternative approaches to securing agreement on civil rights issues.
Director of the Denver Anti-Discrimination Office, Darius Smith, a member of the Navajo tribe, discussed during the civil rights presentation the process of filing a discrimination complaint. While his job does require formal complaints requiring legal action, Smith said he tries to find ways for both parties to resolve issues with a positive mentality similar to Navajo peace-making courts.
“Peace making is an indigenous Native American form of dispute resolution. Peace making is more than enforcement and is not about punishment.” Smith said. “You must talk to the individual and find the real issue. Some of these people just want to be heard and do not necessarily want to settle for money.”
John F. Dulles, former regional director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and a presenter, said that civil rights must be enforced on a local level.
“Native Americans are constantly overlooked and to achieve better civil rights, they must attain more economic and political power in communities outside of their tribes,” Dulles said in an interview.
Esquibel said she enjoyed the presentations, but there is one thing she has yet to experience at this year’s conference.
“These people are sincere about bringing information on the issues that face American Indians,” she said. “Unfortunately I haven’t gotten the chance yet to discuss my perspective. Next year, I think there should be a workshop for those who are not on a reservation who still identify as Native American.”