Published: Oct. 10, 2021 By

Growing up in Lander, Wyoming, a small town just outside the Wind River Indian Reservation, Jenna Whiteplume developed some big dreams of working for the Denver Broncos, the Denver Nuggets or the Colorado Rockies. She knew it would be a long road to the big leagues, but Whiteplume’s aspirations are now more financially within reach, thanks to a new Colorado law.

Jenna Whiteplume

First-year student Jenna Whiteplume stands in front of the buffalo statue in front of Folsom Field. (Patrick Campbell/CU Boulder)

Colorado passed Senate Bill 29 earlier this year, granting in-state tuition to members of American Indian tribes with historical ties to Colorado, regardless of their state residency. Whiteplume, a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe, is the first CU Boulder student to benefit from the new law.

“It feels good to be able to be somewhere where our people used to be,” said Whiteplume.

Whiteplume, who is a first-year student in the pre-business program, credits her father’s love of sports with setting her on her current path. 

“My dad always took me to Buffs games when I was little,” she said. “I've always really liked the Denver area, and Boulder is just so beautiful.”

When it came time to decide on colleges, she knew CU Boulder was the right fit.

However, without significant financial aid, students from Whiteplume’s community often find an out-of-state education beyond their means.

“We usually have to rely on scholarships,” Whiteplume said.

The most financially prudent opportunities are frequently close to home, Whiteplume said, and that can feel limiting.

“Hopefully, this law will allow us to go where we want,” she said. “It really does feel like we can branch out.”

The law could save students like Whiteplume thousands of dollars over the course of their studies.

The CU Boulder campus enrolls about 200 students per year who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native. CU Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano said he hopes this law helps that number grow.

“There are 48 contemporary tribal nations tied to lands in Colorado,” said Chancellor DiStefano. “This law is a long-deserved recognition for Indigenous peoples, and we are excited to welcome more to our campus community.”

Whiteplume has been busy adjusting to college and playing club softball, not leaving much time to think about the historical implications. However, she is keeping an eye out for the next generation.

“I have a couple friends in the class behind me, and I told them about the Colorado in-state tuition bill.” she said. “Hopefully, even if they don't come to Boulder, they could branch out and go somewhere in Colorado.”