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Colorado State Univ. 'deeply regrets' Native American teens' tour experience, offers reimbursement

Posted at 10:21 AM, May 04, 2018

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Colorado State University says it “deeply regrets” the experience two Native American teens underwent on a campus tour earlier this week, but says it has been unsuccessful in getting ahold of the family.

“Early this week, University officials reached out directly to the family of the young men & their high school. We’d like the opportunity to speak w/Ms. Gray & her sons but we have not heard back from the family. We ask them to please get in touch with us at their convenience,” the university said in a string of tweets posted to its official Twitter account.

“We will refund any expenses they incurred traveling to CSU. We deeply regret the unwelcoming and concerning experience they had while guests on our campus,” the university added. “The Office of Admissions, Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Native American Culture Center, and CSU Police Department all are reviewing how such an incident can be avoided or handled differently in the future.”

The statement came about 24 hours after the news broke that the two teens – 19-year-old Thomas Kanewakeron Gray and 17-year-old Lloyd Skanahwati Gray – had the police called on them by the mother of another prospective student who was also on the official tour at CSU.

The woman, who has not been identified, said the boys were making her “nervous” because they were being quiet.

The teens, who are Mohawk and moved to New Mexico in 2009 from upstate New York, attend Northern New Mexico College and Santa Fe Indian School, and had gone up for the tour by themselves, their mother, Lorraine Kahneratokwas Gray, told Scripps station KMGH in Denver on Thursday.

"They scraped together their dollars, made arrangements themselves to register for the campus tour, and took the only car we have and drove up there," Gray said. “And how it ended was even worse.”

According to Gray, her sons got all the official paperwork to take the tour, and staffers were aware they were a part of the official tour. But after police arrived, the boys could no longer find the tour, and their mother told them to come home.

“When you think about young men of color being shot all over the place, or being arrested…I said, ‘Just get in the car and come home,’” she said. “They’d missed a day of school for this campus tour only to be pushed aside because of some woman’s fears."

"It breaks my heart, because they didn't do anything to warrant that," she added, saying she had spoken with some administrators but still had raw emotions. "They're walking on their own ancestors' land, so it breaks my heart."

Several CSU officials wrote in a letter about the incident Thursday ahead of the Friday official statement from the university, and said they would be reaching out to the family.

“This incident is sad and frustrating from nearly every angle, particularly the experience of two students who were here to see if this was a good fit for them as an institution,” wrote Vice President for Enrollment and Access Leslie Taylor, Vice President for Diversity Mary Ontiveros and Vice president for Student Affairs Blanche Hughes.

“The fact that these two students felt unwelcome on our campus while here as visitors runs counter to our Principles of Community and the goals and aspirations of the CSU Police Department, even as they are obligated to respond to an individual’s concern about public safety, as well as the principles of our Office of Admissions,” they continued.

Late Thursday, Colorado Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who is the chair of the state's Commission on Indian Affairs, issued a statement about the incident and said she'd spoken with CSU's president, Tony Frank.

"We share concern over the reported treatment of two Native American teens while on a campus tour of Colorado State University. After speaking with CSU President Tony Frank, we believe the university's response shows the seriousness of the issue, and we understand new procedures will be introduced to better manage campus tours," Lynne said in a statement.

"We want to reiterate our commitment to ensuring public universities are open and welcoming to all students and hope that the young men will not be deterred in their pursuit of attending college in Colorado, a traditional homeland to many tribal nations," Lynne added.