FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Most of the time, the land where Colorado State University’s Hughes Stadium once stood is vacant. This weekend, however, it will be full of teepees, tents and community members who no longer want to be forgotten.
“It’s beautiful in its own way,” John Red Cloud said of the sparse grass and trees beneath his feet, symbols of the tenacity of his fellow Native Americans. “It’s here and there, but no one cares. Yet he survives.
Since the demolition of Hughes Stadium, tribal elders have called on leaders of the city of Fort Collins and Colorado State University to return the land to Native Americans, who owned it long before it was claimed by white settlers. The tension came to a head last year when a sweat lodge erected by Native Americans was removed by city workers.
Since then, however, there has been a healing. An event this weekend called Re-Emergence Encampment was jointly planned by Native American elders and city officials.
Attendees at the event come from many Native American tribes across the country, eager to reconnect with their roots and bring awareness to issues they often feel are overlooked. Chief among them this year, they say, are climate change and mental health. They also want recognition of the generational trauma their people have faced and the large number of Indigenous men and women who are murdered or go missing every year.
“From the moment we started being colonized, there was a lot of trauma and no one really wanted to help,” said Sahela Cross. “It causes a lot more addictions to drugs and alcohol, and it causes suicides.”
“A lot of people, when I tell them I’m Native American, they’re like, ‘Do you still exist?'” Kendra Bruner said. “It’s heartbreaking, but at the same time it’s the reality.”
Even still, participants feel a sense of hope as they gather at the foothills of Fort Collins. Many tribes – at one time in history, enemies of each other – can now unite into one. People of other races come to the camp to join them and spend the weekend living on and with the land.
In cooperation with the city of Fort Collins, the plan is to have the reemergence camp reappear for years to come.
“I hope what we’re doing here raises awareness of what we’re doing and people realize we’re still here,” Bruner said. “We are still thriving, even though few people see us.”