By Sandy Wiegand, Copyeditor and Writer at Joining Vision and Action
On Monday, we celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, honoring Native Americans, recognizing America’s history of colonialism and genocide, and reclaiming the former Columbus Day holiday. Denver first designated the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2016, though it isn’t an official city holiday. Several other cities, including Boulder, and states, including New Mexico, have made the change more formally.
Stella Carrasco, JVA’s office manager and training coordinator, often speaks proudly about her Lakota traditions and history. Stella is a Lakota Sicangu and is a direct descendant of Chief Turning Bear and a member of the Left Hand Bull family.
Before coming to JVA, Stella worked with tribal members on community, environmental, economic and land use issues on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. Her achievements included helping the reservation to set up its own Environmental Protection Agency and Land offices, and organizing events for youth on the reservation. She previously was co-director of the board of the White Buffalo Calf Women’s Society, the first domestic violence shelter on an Indian reservation in the United States. After moving to Denver, she served two terms on the Denver American Indian Commission.
Stella is my friend, and a largely behind-the-scenes champion of all that’s good in the world. She was kind enough to talk to me about her perspectives on Indigenous Peoples’ Day and to share a bit about herself.
Do you mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day in any particular way?
“When I was younger, if there was a PowWow or celebration, I would be there. Today, I’d rather sit at home, have friends come over for a meal and spend the evening together.”
How do you feel about the movement to urge more government entities to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day?
“I support this movement whole-heartedly. In my younger days, I was very active in protesting Columbus Day and all the crimes and atrocities Columbus committed against Indian Nations. It warms my heart to see Denver and other cities changing the day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
“It was a dream for many of us who fought against the concept of honoring Columbus. We have young generations who are taking the lead and making positive changes through social media for all Native peoples.”
How long/what ages did you live on the Rosebud Reservation?
“We were always traveling back and forth from Northeast Colorado to Rosebud, S.D., throughout my life. I have lived there in my youth and in my middle years of life.
“I spent the last 20 years living on my reservation before moving to Denver. I came to visit my son nine years ago and found out I was going to be a grandma. So I went home, packed my bags and have been here since then.”
When was the last time you went back?
“I went back a couple years ago to bury a very close friend of mine. So many of our people are leaving for the spirit world. Since I have been here in Denver, I have lost several close friends and relatives. It is usually a sad occasion, but it is always so good to be back home with relatives and friends.”
I know that your granddaughters are the center of your world. How do you share Lakota traditions with them, and what does that mean to you?
“I constantly remind my granddaughters that they are little Lakota winyans (women) and teach them the same teachings my grandma taught me.
“I tell them they are sacred, strong and have a very important role. They are taught that the women are the backbone of all nations and no matter what, they must always keep their mind, spirit and heart strong.
“I teach them basic Lakota words, and they pick it up so easily and remember them. They love it when I burn sage, and now when we pray, they get to carry the sage around to purify their home. I am very proud of my granddaughters and feel that my role as a grandma is the most important role in my life.”
How long have you been at JVA and how did you get connected with JVA initially?
“I have been with JVA for over eight years and would love to be able to give another eight or more years. I believe in the way JVA works. Throughout my life, I have attended a lot of trainings in many places and have never come across any trainings like JVA’s.
“I was working at the Denver Indian Center, Inc. when the then-executive director, Jay Grimm, (who was a former JVA associate) provided me with the job description and encouraged me to apply.”
What do you wish more white people/non-Natives knew, as far as Native American experiences?
“That many Native people are still deeply affected today by historical grief and struggle to survive in today’s society. Even today, as a Lakota, I try to walk on this earth in a humble manner and help those who are less fortunate than me.
“I wish more people would know that we are all connected in a sacred manner to all life including the Earth. We call the Earth Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth); without her, we would all die. She is sacred and provides everything we need to survive.
“Today, there is so much destruction being done to her, it breaks our hearts. There are those that have their ears and eyes wide open and are trying to bring awareness and change so future generations can live. These people are our hope for a better tomorrow.”