In early 2020, Lindsey Schneider convened a listening session for Native families in Poudre School District. Schneider, an assistant professor of Native American Studies at Colorado State University (CSU), wanted to learn more about the Native community’s needs and experiences. Nearly 50 youth, parents, and community members gathered to discuss concerns facing Native students and families. One immediate need stood out. Families sought cultural programming to strengthen their students’ sense of identity and foster connections between students and their families. The Indigenous Science, Arts, Technology, and Resilience (ISTAR) Camp was piloted later that year.
ISTAR Camp provides support for Native American youth and families in Fort Collins. The program offers a K-8th grade summer camp, as well as community nights and cultural activities. Their work builds strong, positive relationships that foster belonging and help participants be a source of strength and support for each other.
“Our goal is to make sure Native youth in our community see their identity as an asset, and that youth and their families feel connected and valued,” said Schneider. “Fort Collins can be a difficult place to be Native—from the way local histories of settler colonialism are mythologized to the lack of dedicated physical space for the community to gather. Most Native families are scattered across the district, so students are usually the only Native person in their classroom. The most important work we do with ISTAR is to create a space where they can connect with other Native students.”
Throughout the program, campers participate in hands-on activities led by guest experts. The activities and instructional time are designed to help students connect Indigenous knowledge and cultural practices to their own lives and establish their relevance to contemporary issues.
ISTAR uses an inter-tribal approach to address topics relevant to a broad range of participants and includes activities that serve as a launch pad for students to engage with their individual tribal communities. The camp is staffed by Indigenous CSU students. They take a class on Native issues in the education system and get hands-on practice in curriculum design and evaluation. As they contribute to the program design, they assume responsibility for their culture in a new way that builds confidence, leadership, and community engagement skills.
“The story of many communities in the U.S. today–the way these communities understand who they are–is usually told in a way that erases Native people from the picture or relegates us to the distant past,” said Schneider. “The work of the ISTAR program is to contest this erasure. By ensuring our youth grow up knowing who they are, why they matter, and what they are capable of, we are working toward a future where the Native community is recognized, not just as the original stewards of these lands, but as a thriving and resilient source of knowledge and culture.”
CSU’s Department of Ethnic Studies received a Bohemian Fund grant to support the ISTAR program. Bohemian Fund supports organizations that value diversity and inclusion, foster belonging, and strive to advance equity. Applicants align their requests with one of three Bohemian Fund goals:
- Ensuring all youth thrive.
- Promoting economic stability and mobility.
- Cultivating a vibrant, engaged, and connected community.