NACC celebrates Native American Legacy Award graduates


Colorado State University’s land grant mission includes recognizing the original residents of the land that is now the state of Colorado.

Since 2011, CSU has offered the Native American Legacy Award to non-resident undergraduate and graduate students who are citizens of tribes with a historical legacy of occupation in Colorado. The award reduces non-resident tuition to Colorado-resident base tuition plus $250 per semester, and citizens of nearly 100 tribes and bands throughout the western United States are eligible to apply.

“They once lived on this land, this was their home,” said Mary Ontiveros, vice president for diversity and chair of the committee that makes the awards. “Colorado State is the only university in the state to offer this program, and it came about with the critical support of University leadership, from President Tony Frank and his cabinet as well as faculty and staff and the Board of Governors.”

Leadership got a push in the right direction by Native students and Native faculty and staff who were concerned with the climate on campus. They engaged in conversation with University leadership, after a white student suggested Ram fans dress up as “Indians” for a basketball game against the University of Wyoming Cowboys. Among their demands to create a more inclusive campus was a reinstatement of a grant program for Native Americans that was no longer funded by the University.

Graduates honored

Once the NALA was approved by the Board of Governors, Admissions worked to get to word out to tribes, high schools and tribal colleges, where transfer students are eligible for the award. The NALA has been awarded to 72 students in the past five years, with the largest cohort ever – 20 incoming freshmen, transfer students and graduate student — arriving in Fall 2015. To date, 17 NALA recipients have graduated from CSU.

“We have had students tell us that the NALA made the difference between them going to college or not,” said Ty Smith, director of the Native American Cultural Center on campus. “They want to come to CSU because we offer programs that are unique and important to Native Americans.”

The first cohort in fall 2011 included four freshmen; three graduated this spring and were honored at the NACC End-of-the-Year Reception on May 5. James Calabaza, a member of the Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico, earned his bachelor’s in animal science; Rachelle Lee, a citizen of the Navajo Nation from Yatahey, New Mexico, received her bachelor’s in ethnic studies; and Tanner Simpson, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation from Arlington, Texas, earned a bachelor’s in civil engineering.

In total, 15 graduates from five different colleges and 10 different tribal affiliations were honored at the reception, receiving custom-made Pendleton blankets and a blessing for their continued journey.

Continued support

“When we present the NALA program at conferences, chief diversity officers at other schools ask, ‘How did you do this?’” Ontiveros said. “The answer is that our leadership decided it was the right thing to do, and supported it, and funded it.”

Ontiveros, Smith and others would like to see a similar program available at every college and university in Colorado, but legislation to expand the funding that has been introduced in the state house has died in committee three years running.

“We’ll be back next year, I’m sure,” Ontiveros said.

For more information about the NALA, contact Leslee Lovato at 970-491-5232 or