Celebrating 2022 Native American Heritage Month

Celebrating 2022 Native American Heritage Month

November 1, 2022

The Indigenous people were the original inhabitants of the lands that now represent the U.S. In Colorado, roughly one percent of its population identifies as Native American, including Alaskan Natives, and are mostly occupied by the traditional and ancestral homelands of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute Nations. Throughout the year, and especially during the month of November, we honor the rich histories, diverse cultures, and contributions of Colorado’s Native American communities. This month, we asked three CU Denver students why it is meaningful to them. 


Meet Christina Sigala 

Christina’s ethnic background is Native American (Pueblo, Lakota, Choctaw) and Mexican from Chihuahua, Mexico. For more than 40 years she has helped people, provided presentations, and talked to mental health colleagues on Indigenous healing and spiritual practices and methods, including mindfulness, healing the pain, and mindfulness breathing through Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn, who helps us learn how to respond to events with compassion and not judgment or fear.  

Why is Native American Heritage Month meaningful to you? 

As a proud great grandma (GG), and grandma, who is honored that my ancestors are Native American and Mexican, I am grateful that I have weaved for over 45 years, my Indigenous Spiritual Healing Practices of Peace, Compassion, Kindness, and Forgiveness, to help individuals and families co-create healthy environments of strong communication, with hope wrapped in faith for their life paths.  

Through the Indigenous methodology of plática (talking), rooted in Corazón Cura Corazón (Heart Heals Heart), we work together on life’s challenges and opportunities. I am a Curandera, who is an Espiritu Consejera (spiritual counselor), and the Indigenous methodology is an area of my expertise. We listen together to your stories and begin the process of untangling our problems and life’s challenges by asking for help and doing the work that is needed to support the mind, body, and spirit. I celebrate my heritage through my ongoing work, every day of my life.  

What type of work are you involved in at CU Denver that impacts the community?  

As a recipient of the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship, I have received many educational opportunities. Thanks to a fellowship I received at CU Denver during the fall of 2022, I have taught the course Culturally Linguistic Diverse Education (CLDE) for the undergraduate program in the department of Human Development and Family Relations (HDFR).  

How has studying, teaching, or working at CU Denver impacted you?  

My doctoral degree in Latino(a) Educational Leadership (EdD) at CU Denver complements greatly my academic trajectory of supporting the Chicana/o, Latina, Latino, Latinx, and Native American historical foundations of educational leadership. My dissertation is the most impactful on my academic path as my research is rooted in the term “Tenure,” as it will examine the underrepresentation of the gender, ethnicity, and racial makeup of the academic rank of full-time female professors at public, four-year, degree-seeking institutions, and specifically Chicana, Hispanic, Indigenous, Latina, Mexican, Native American, and Pacific Islander women who have experienced the tenure track process. To promote an inclusive and equitable higher education setting, I will provide recommendations on institutional goals and departmental policy changes in the tenure process to meet the needs of a rapidly changing and ethnically diverse student body.  


Meet Helen Gover 

Photo credit: Wes Cunningham

Helen comes from the Diné, Pawnee, and Choctaw Nations. Her mother’s side is Diné, and her clans are Kinlichii’nii (Red House People) and Ta’neeszahnii (Tangled Arm People). Her mother’s family is from Aneth, Utah, near the four corners of the Navajo Nation. Her dad’s side is Skidi Pawnee (Wolf band/paternal) and Choctaw (maternal) and are from Pawnee and Broken Bow in Oklahoma. She grew up participating in different ceremonies and events, both in Colorado and in her homelands, including dancing at powwows. In her spare time, she is learning how to bead and sew regalia from both family and new friends. 

Why is Native American Heritage Month meaningful to you? 

Native American Heritage Month is meaningful to me in the sense that it sheds light on our triumphs and current issues, such as environmental activism, mascot changes, the Indian Child Welfare Act, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives, etc. As a native, it’s important for non-natives to learn about these things. However, it’s also important to remember that Indigenous issues don’t start and stop during November. I celebrate the fact that my people are still alive and doing great things. I like researching Native American and Indigenous artists to listen to and share on my social media accounts. The media has created a false narrative of native people and by sharing music and art that celebrates our people, I think that’s the best way I celebrate throughout the month on a personal level. 

What type of work are you involved in at CU Denver that impacts the community?  

I am very involved with our native student community here at the Auraria campus. I work at CU Denver’s Center of Identity and Inclusion and am part of the Music Industry Student Association (MISA) leadership. While at Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU) for the fall 2020 semester, I helped co-found the Native Indigenous Student Alliance (NISA), which is now registered on all three campuses (CU Denver, MSU, and Community College of Denver). NISA has actively launched informational panels as well as cultural events, such as the powwow from last spring.  

How has studying, teaching, or working at CU Denver impacted you?  

I am a senior standing student at CU Denver studying music business with a minor in the fundamentals of music. After transferring a couple of times, I found my way to CU Denver. The College of Arts & Media and my professors from music business have helped me find my purpose in pursuing this industry. In spring 2021, I was able to intern at Levitt Pavilion Denver and was hired part-time as a communications assistant. Today, I am planning my own Native Music Festival at my venue to create space and showcase indigenous artists. I will also attend the Native American Music Awards in Niagara Falls, New York.  

Recently, I attended the Guild of Music Supervisors conference and met my current boss for my internship at Dreamboat Music LLC. I believe the school has done wonders to prepare me for these positions and to help me network effectively to pursue my dream jobs. 


Meet Alexandra Salazar 

The red handprint is a symbol used to honor missing and murdered Indigenous women. 

Alexandra is Indigenous American, and her ethnicity is Chicana. Her father, Joseph A. Salazar, is a former state representative and a strong advocate for his Indigenous community. A proud member of the Native Indigenous Student Alliance (NISA), Alexandra’s motto is to believe in yourself and to be kind, not only to yourself, but to others as well.  

Why is Native American Heritage Month meaningful to you? 

Native American heritage celebrates our culture and our people. It gives us a chance to educate and advocate for ourselves. Since I joined the Native Indigenous Student Alliance, I have had the opportunity to go to many powwows and other events to get to know my community more. At home, we often talk about our history and what it means to be Indigenous in this country, and what a blessing it is, but also how it can be challenging. However, we continue to do our best and honor our ancestors, the land we came from, and the people we care about. 

What type of work are you involved in at CU Denver that impacts the community?  

Through the Native Indigenous Student Alliance, I was able to reconnect with friends, develop long-term relationships and build new ones. Currently, I am proudly organizing an event through NISA on Nov. 16, 2022, at 5p.m. at the Tivoli. I am also a part of the Institutional Equity Advocacy Council, which gives me an opportunity to contribute my thoughts, ideas, and opinions as a Chicana/Indigenous woman wanting to make this campus more equitable for everyone.  

How has studying, teaching, or working at CU Denver impacted you?  

It’s been a novel experience working at CU Denver and with the Center of Identity and Inclusion. Our work is so important, and we provide students not only with the community they need but a second family. This is something I have gained from working at the Center of Identity and Inclusion; we advocate and educate, which is incredibly important.