Photo courtesy of DU Native Student Alliance

Monday, Oct. 9, is recognized by some citizens as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a holiday to honor indigenous peoples and raise awareness of indigenous issues, as well as replace the nationally recognized Columbus Day. On this day, the DU Native Student Alliance (NSA) launched their #NoMorePios campaign. This campaign is the culmination of years of conversations that have been happening among the native students on campus surrounding opposition to DU’s mascot, the Pioneers.

“With the No More Pios Campaign, #NoMorePios, we’re looking to create this conversation, this discussion, to bring about change, because Pioneer does not represent the spirit of the students on this campus,” said NSA co-president Ontario Duley (Seneca Tribe, Aurora, CO).

“Seeing the word ‘pioneer’ as indigenous students, it’s very degrading because in our experience, ‘pioneer’ is associated with westward expansion, genocide, oppression, assimilation of Native American students,” said the other NSA co-president, Raelene Woody (Diné Tribe, Gallup, NM).

Woody and Duley both discussed DU’s own history with indigenous peoples as was explored in the school’s John Evans report, which found the university’s founder John Evans culpable for the Sand Creek Massacre, an event that saw the slaughter of over 150 Arapaho and Cheyenne people.

There is a photo campaign on social media of students holding signs bearing facts about Denver, DU and indigenous people. Messages on the signs include facts such as: “From 1893 to 1974, the Iliff School of Theology proudly and publicly displayed a volume bound in the skin of an American Indian. #notyourmascot #changethename,” and “1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie gave the Arapaho tribe the land Denver and DU now resides on #nobanonstolenland.” The signs were created by Jonathan Nelson, a Diné artist in Denver, in collaboration with the DU Center for Multicultural Excellence.

“In the indigenous experience, you’re equipped to handle all of these things. It’s what’s called historical trauma,” said Woody. “To a lot of students, it may seem like this doesn’t affect them, but it does, and you just may not see it as often because indigenous students—through their history, through their people’s history—have been equipped to deal with these things.”

As part of the campaign, the NSA is conducting a survey of DU students asking their opinions about a new mascot, and the responses the survey has produced has the NSA feeling hopeful.

“If you look at it as ‘the Indian students are upset on DU’s campus,’ that’s not productive and that’s not truthful; that’s not the conversation,” said Duley. “[L]ook at it as, the University of Denver is lacking school spirit in some ways; we’re lacking imagery that represents us to the broader community. So overwhelmingly, students are interested in a change.”

Follow the NSA on its Facebook page to keep up with the #NoMorePios campaign.