“I will tell you a story about being in between. Being subject to society, a society written and designed by the white man, by Western culture. I live where the road splits into what once was one. Where Western people see me as an ethnicity, a race with little to no say in how I can express myself and practice my culture. Imagine just a crosswalk away from a completely different mindset and a completely different world. I cross the road from my reservation, the ‘rez’ they call it, and put on my western clothes, shoes, and grab my traditional western purse. I clear my throat and speak English suppressing my native tongue and pretend not to care when I walk into a store that was built on my ancestor’s land and a white man watches me to see if I am assimilated or a wild beast controlled by some nonwestern force of disobedience.” — Excerpt from NASO President Ashley Miles’ Land Acknowledgement
Native American Student Organization’s Mission
November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of Native American tribes. CU Denver’s Native American Student Organization (NASO) encourages Native students, along with allies, to give back to the community and become active leaders. Due to the uncertainty of COVID-19, this semester they are not holding member meetings. Instead, they try to plan several in-person events throughout the week to bring their community together.
It all started in 1970, when students Michael Running Wolf and Jim Nelson began a grassroots movement. Their goals were to address the needs of current and future Native American students at CU Denver. This movement resulted in the development of NASO. Student leaders are held in a high regard for traditional ways of life expressed through leadership and cultural values.
NASO hopes to bring the Indigenous community together and create a safe place where they can celebrate their cultures and values and support the community. They give back to the community through activism and community service.
Meet Some of NASO’s Members
Ashley Miles, current NASO president, is a part of the Santa Ana Pueblo and Hopi tribes. She is a third-year student majoring in business management and biology in the Business School and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, respectively. She helps to plan events and create safe spaces where people can meet. She also helps with the organizing duties of the vice president and treasurer.
The CU Denver community is widely diverse and strives to create a welcoming environment for all. On the other hand, it’s inevitable for minority students to long for home from time to time. “I think it’s really important to connect with other people and keep going. It’s hard because we’re walking on two roads. At school you’re presenting yourself one way, while at home you’re another way. It’s difficult because you miss home, your identity, your culture,” Miles said. “These emotional obstacles are no easy feat, but it all ties back to giving back to the community. I put my people first. I’m not coming to school just for myself.”
Diego Padilla is a first-year student majoring in film and television studies in the College of Arts and Media. He is a part of the Chichimeca and Maya tribes. He joined NASO with the hope to be around other students who view the world in a similar way. A common struggle amongst commuter students is the inability to feel a sense of community on their campus. Padilla is thankful for NASO giving him a sense of home.
A big part of being Native American is the act of connecting with one’s Indigenous roots, Padilla said. “All of my ancestors weren’t always connected. It’s important for me to start that process for myself, for my kids, and future generations,” he said. A few ways they connect or reconnect are through community involvement and exchange of knowledge.
A Note for the Community
NASO is a safe space for all Indigenous people and allies. They, along with the Center for Identity and Inclusion, welcome students with open arms. “It’s always great to have outside help,” Padilla said. “Any students that feel like they have any Indigenous connections or would to like to learn more are welcome. Spread the word. Help us set the record straight.”
Creating a sense of community is more than just sharing time and having similar interests. It’s about forming bonds with people and nature’s surroundings. “The Earth is part of us—it’s like our mother. We need to be there for our Earth. It’s not about how much of the language or blood content we have, it’s about being part of the community. That is what it means to be Native American,” Padilla said. “One of their strongest values is to see everything as equal. No one or thing is better than the other. Our Earth and its inhabitants should be treated the same, with respect, equality, and kindness.”
NASO vice president Terrell Padilla is a part of the Navajo tribe. He is a third-year student studying communications in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Together, Miles and Terrell Padilla aim to create a safe space for all Indigenous students, where they can spend time together and share stories and knowledge.