Like many people seeking a law degree, Emiliano (Milo) Salazar ’23 was eager to shift into a career that was more fulfilling. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2012, Salazar spent 8 years working in software and considered a post graduate degree for a long time.
However, what Milo did not anticipate was that his legal education at Colorado Law would equip him with the tools to reconstruct his family's Indigenous history.
“I have always been involved with Native communities,” said Salazar. “In undergrad, I majored in math and legal studies, and wrote my undergraduate thesis on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. I was also President of the Native American Student Association and worked at the Josephine White Eagle Cultural Center.”
Salazar’s family is from northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, and their journey to rebuild their family history has spanned decades. However, this quest has been filled with many challenges, as the stories passed down from other family members often conflict with historical records.
“To be native in New Mexico or Colorado at the turn of the century was frowned upon…it made your life incredibly difficult,” Salazar shared. “Both of my great grandparents on that [my dad’s] side had basically distanced themselves from their culture. It wasn’t really until my dad and then later me – because I have had access to this institution and different indigenous communities-- that we have been able to rebuild that family history.”
Milo’s involvement with the American Indian Law Project (AILP) at Colorado Law played a pivotal role in his journey. It was here that he developed the knowledge to ultimately recognize the discrepancies in the stories he had heard.
“This topic is difficult to research because a lot of records are not kept,” Salazar said. “In Dulce, where my great grandmother attended the Indian Mission School, the archive burnt down, so we have been trying to verify this information with folks who went to the boarding school and tribal historians because we might never find a piece of paper saying it.”
For Salazar’s family, being able to reconstruct this history has meant the world. Just this month, the family visited Westcliffe to meet with some of the people helping them to retrace these stories. They confirmed with the Jicarilla Apache Nation tribal historian that their great grandmother would have been Jicarilla Apache, and their great grandfather was Carlana Apache.
“To hear that type of confirmation brought us all to tears because we have been trying to figure this out for so long,” Salazar said. “Especially because she [my great grandmother] was so anti-native, that is what they were taught at school… it was a heavy trauma she lived with her whole life. That type of confirmation is so important because in Native American culture, knowing who your ancestors are is so important.”
Salazar emphasized that his family wouldn’t have accessed this information without the resources he has available to him at Colorado Law, as well as the connections he has made to numerous Indigenous communities. He hopes that with this knowledge, he can help others rebuild their family histories, too.
For now, Salazar continues to work as the AILP fellow for the 2023-24 academic year, where he undertakes various projects involving education and advocacy for Native communities. While he is not certain what the future holds in terms of his legal career, he knows that he wants to continue his work with Indigenous communities.
“I really want to use my experience here to help advocate for Indigenous peoples in the U.S. and across the world; and help them assert their human rights and their rights as peoples.”
Colorado Law is grateful to have Salazar as part of our community, contributing his expertise, passion, and leadership.