As part of an anti-racist initiative, Colorado College is shedding the informal Armstrong Quad name and now calling its largest open space, where students study, outdoor classes congregate and impromptu volleyball games materialize, Tava Quad.

The Ute word means “sun” and also was how Ute settlers identified the mountain today known as Pikes Peak.

A Ute Tribal cultural performance begins at 1 p.m. Saturday on the site, at the northeast corner of Cache la Poudre Street and Cascade Avenue.

Powwow dancing and drumming will be included in the dedication and celebration, which will feature about 40 members of the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes.

The event is being held during the college’s homecoming festivities, and the public is invited.

The naming is more than a symbolic gesture, said Dwanna McKay, a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation and assistant professor of indigenous studies in Colorado College’s Race, Ethnicity and Migration Program.

“It means this is a space of healing and coming back together,” she said. And, “There’s an understanding of the connection to the earth and the land.”

The tribute also is an act of reconciliation, said Felix Sanchez, a Colorado College alum who is a member of the Navajo Nation.

“Part of becoming an anti-racist campus had to be reckoning with our history,” he said.

The Pikes Peak region is the Utes’ ancestral homeland, said Sanchez, who works as CC’s assistant vice president for communications.

“Coming back here does mean a lot,” said Davidson Lopez of the Bad Ol Rock Singers, a family drumming group from two Ute tribes in southwestern Colorado. “If anything, it’s just coming back home.”

Garden of the Gods, in particular, was known as a site of council meetings for Ute chiefs, he said.

The new name for the campus hub is an example of Colorado College “working to correct revisionist history,” McKay said.

“The history that all the settlers were benevolent — they weren’t,” she said. “The history that somehow these territories were unoccupied and there was no violence or damage done in the settlement of these areas — there was.”

Inappropriate incidents against people of color on campus in recent years led Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler to call for the anti-racism campaign.

Pertaining to Native Americans, disrespectful activities amounting to desecration occurred inside a teepee on campus a few years ago, according to social media accounts.

A campuswide no-smoking policy prevented Native American students from cleansing spaces, bodies and minds with dried herbs in a ceremony known as smudging. A committee studied the cultural and spiritual relevance of the ritual, leading to a smudging policy being instituted one year ago to allow for the practice.

Another effort: Monday’s Columbus Day holiday is now Indigenous Peoples Day at Colorado College.

Members of the college’s Native American Student Union were instrumental in instigating changes, Sanchez said, and also were key participants in the Tava Quad naming, which also received approval from the Ute tribes.

While cultural awareness and respect have improved since Sanchez attended Colorado College more than 15 years ago, there is still work to be done, he said.

“We’re talking about centuries of racist policies and procedures,” he said. “I wish something like this happened when I was a student here, so I’d feel my entire identity as a human being was nurtured.”

Every Native American student “faces discrimination at CC on a daily basis,” said Cristina Garcia, who graduated from Colorado College in May and now works as a first-grade teacher in Pueblo

“It’s in curricula. It’s in students’ attitude and perception of who Native people are and who we represent,” she said. “There’s a lot of racialization.”

Naming the area Tava Quad “gives Native students a sense of place,” said Garcia, who as a member of the Native American Student Union helped develop the project. “It lets them know their culture is valued. It’s a great first step to decolonizing the institution and shows they’re willing to promote Native voices.”

The action also “highlights the connection between the original people that were here and the ongoing promise of Colorado College to acknowledge and recognize indigenous people as the first inhabitants of this land,” McKay said.

Men, women and children from several tribes gave class presentations Friday on regalia they wear, drumming and dancing customs, culture, indigenous history and contemporary issues.

New signs are planned for Tava Quad, but Willis Armstrong won’t be forgotten. The CC graduate, trustee and benefactor will still have a spacious hall named in his honor.

Most buildings and places on the Colorado College campus are named for white historical leaders or benefactors, Sanchez said.

“Tava Quad is a movement against that,” Sanchez said. “As people walk by, every day an indigenous word will be spoken on campus.”

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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