Native Americans of Colorado


Join Active Minds as we tell the stories of the original inhabitants of Colorado. From Mesa Verde to the high plains, we will trace the civilizations of the Ute, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Pueblo and other tribes as we seek to understand Colorado’s Native American history and legacy.

Key Lecture Points

  • Native Americans were the original population of Colorado. However, illness, inter-tribal warfare and conflict with white settlers and the United States government eventually led to forced settlement treaties that drove most Native Americans out of Colorado. Today, Native Americans make up just 1.1% of the population of Colorado.
  • The history of Native Americans is central to the history of the state of Colorado, including the foundation of Denver over 150 years ago. By understanding this history, we can understand much more about how the area was founded, including why so many of our counties, parks, neighborhoods, and towns have Native American names.
  • In the present day, Native Americans of Colorado (and in the United States as a whole) are more widely accepted and celebrated than in years past. The cultural heritage of the various tribes of Colorado is one of the key elements of the history of Colorado. That said, Native Americans throughout the country are struggling to maintain their rich heritage.

Contemporary debates about American Heritage Sites and the Keystone XL pipeline remind us that the relationship between Native Americans and the United States government is still an active issue.

Exploration Questions

  • Who do you think held the rights to the land, the early Native Americans or the settlers? Was violence on either side justified as a means to an end?
  • It has been nearly 150 years since the Sand Creek Massacre. Do you believe that the United States has any obligations to the Native American tribes for this and other incidents? Explain your answer.
  • How much should government policy reflect a concern for the legacy of white settlement on land previously held by Native Americans?

Reflective Questions

  • What are your impressions of Native American culture in Colorado?
  • Do you recall portrayals of Native Americans in movies and television? How has the portrayal of Native Americans changed during your lifetime?

More to Explore

  • Searchable index about Native American tribes Click here
  • Encyclopedia of Plains Indians Click here

Books for Further Reading

  • Dennis, Yvonne Wakim, Arlene Hirschfelder, and Shannon Rothenberger Flynn. Native American Almanac: More Than 50,000 Years of the Cultures and Histories of Indigenous Peoples. Visible Ink Press, 2016. 486 pages. Provides a comprehensive history of the native peoples of the United States, organized by region.
    Click here to order
  • Leonard, Stephen J. and Thomas J. Noel. A Short History of Denver. University of Nevada Press, 2016. 192 pages. The first chapter ofprovides an excellent overview of Native Americans’ role in the founding of Denver, as well as directions for a tour of sites related to Native Americans in Denver.
    Click here to order