By Ana Mashek

After discussions and recommendations between the Native American Student Union and other Indigenous Colorado College students, members of the Student Life Division, and the Indigenous Community at CC, the college made the decision to introduce a new position to its faculty — an Elder-in-Residence. On Oct. 1, Debbie Howell became the first to hold the position. 

Photo by Ale Tejeda

Howell’s undertaking of the role “reflects the college’s goal to recognize and support Indigenous people,” according to a CC communications release.

This position is well established at other colleges and universities as a way “to offer a supportive environment for students through an Elder’s connections to local Indigenous communities, intertribal knowledges and participation, and consistent interactions and consulting,” according to Dwanna McKay, assistant professor of Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies.

Howell is an enrolled member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and a descendant of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota. She attended University of Phoenix in Colorado Springs. Since then she has stayed local, working as an administrative assistant, a data analyst, and a parenting program facilitator, as well as performing with Seven Falls Indian Dancers. 

Howell isn’t new to CC, however — McKay said Howell has been an “active volunteer with [CC] for the last two years, providing prayer and benediction at various campus-wide events.” These include speaking at this fall’s Commencement ceremony and participating in the powwow that NASU hosts annually for the public. 

NASU co-head Carissa Sherman ’21 said that Howell’s new role is “vital.” 

“In many cultures, Native Americans and Indigenous peoples respect the advice and wisdom of elders … [Howell] provides a connection to home and a comforting presence at [NASU] meetings,” Sherman said.

At these meetings, Sherman acknowledges that Howell is “very involved.” “She helps [NASU] with planning and brainstorming events while allowing us to maintain [our] autonomy,” Sherman said.

In addition to working with NASU, Howell explained that her role will cover a number of other responsibilities.

“I am here to support a community of diverse students by providing elder care in the Native American tradition,” Howell said. “I hope to engage and build relationships with students through traditional teachings, cultural activities, support, listening, and guidance.” 

After she learns more about the CC community, Howell says she will “refer students to the appropriate resources as needed, offer office hours, and upon request, foster spiritual life discussions.” She will also serve on CC’s Climate Change Task Force and the JED Campus Committee, which works to build upon existing student mental health, substance use, and suicide prevention efforts. 

“I am excited to get better acquainted with the CC students,” Howell said.

Members of CC community express enthusiasm about bringing her aboard as a resource and community member. McKay notes that Howell’s “presence in this formal position offers a more welcoming and culturally rich experience for Native/Indigenous students, faculty, and staff and will also raise awareness of Native cultures and Indigenous contributions for non Natives.” 

Howell will hold office hours in Worner 214 and can be reached at

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