When Irene Vernon heard that a Native American tribe in southern Colorado was trying to expand the collection in its humble library, she knew she could help.
Vernon, professor and chair of Colorado State University’s Department of Ethnic Studies, had been collecting books by and about Native Americans since 1970. But since she plans to retire in the next couple of years, she had been seeking a new home for them.
She found one in the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
Patricia Vigil, director of university partnerships and student success, heads CSU’s Alliance Partnership, which works with racially diverse high schools in the state that have high numbers of first-generation students and free/reduced lunches. One of those is Montezuma-Cortez High School in southwestern Colorado, and during a visit to that region last summer, a delegation that included CSU President Tony Frank and Vigil visited Towaoc and the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, which has a small library that is in need of more books.
Vernon learned about the library’s dearth of tomes from Vigil, and earlier this year, CSU Native American Cultural Center Director Tyrone Smith drove more than a dozen boxes of Vernon’s books down to the reservation. Tanya Amrine, education division director for the tribe, took more boxes home after a meeting in Fort Collins a couple of weeks later.
“This is a significant contribution to the collection, because they’re all Native American books,” Amrine said. “We had very few Native American books, so this is really an asset for the library.”
Vigil recalls Amrine’s reaction when she first brought up the idea of the donation.
“When I asked her, she was just thrilled,” Vigil said. “She said, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’”
Vernon, who has also donated books to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, said she’s glad her collection isn’t just collecting dust.
“Books should be read, books should be used,” she said. “I hadn’t used some of them in ages.”
Amrine said that the books are still in boxes, but CSU has offered to help organize and catalogue the collection this summer.
The ties between the tribe and CSU go beyond the book donation. In June, the university will host the annual Tri-Ute Youth Leadership Conference. In addition, as part of the Alliance Math in Action in Computer Science camp, Native American students from Cortez Middle School visit campus each summer for a week-long hands-on training to learn about math concepts and their applications to computer science. Cortez Middle School also brings all 150 of its eighth grade students to visit CSU each spring and be exposed to a college campus and explore the career opportunities that a college education can provide.
“It’s all about partnerships,” Vigil said.