University apologizes to Native American students detained on college tour

"They're walking on their own ancestors' land, so it breaks my heart."

Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. CREDIT: Katie Wood/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. CREDIT: Katie Wood/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Colorado State University offered an apology and an all-expenses-paid campus tour to two prospective Native American students who were detained by police while on a visit to the campus, in a case of alleged racial bias.

Representatives for CSU said Friday they regretted an incident in which the teenage brothers were subjected to a police pat-down during a visit to the university.  They were detained after a parent on the tour of the university became suspicious and notified campus police.

CSU invited Thomas Kanewakeron Gray, 19, and Skanahwati Lloyd Gray, 17, back to the school for a VIP visit around the Fort Collins, Colorado campus, but said the school has not yet heard back from the boys’ mother. 

“We’d like the opportunity to speak with Ms. Gray and her sons but we have not heard back from the family,” CSU officials said Friday in an email. “We ask them to please get in touch with us at their convenience.”


“As a university community, we deeply regret the experience of these students while they were guests on our campus,” they wrote. “The fact that these two students felt unwelcome on our campus while here as visitors runs counter to our principles of community.”

The Gray brothers, who are Mohawk, visited CSU on Monday, a trip they had reportedly planned for some time. Thomas Kanewakeron Gray is a student at Northern New Mexico College hoping to transfer schools. His brother is a senior at Santa Fe Indian School, which serves Native American students from across the Southwestern United States.

The boys arrived on the tour late after becoming lost while trying to find the school. After they joined the group, according to a statement released by CSU, the parent of another prospective applicant called campus police “because she was nervous about the presence of two young men” and was wary about their silence. 

“They are not, definitely not, a part of the tour,” the 45-year-old white woman told campus security . “And their behavior is just really odd. And I’ve never called, ever, about anybody. But they joined our tour. They won’t give their names.” She indicated she believed the boys were Latinx, that they were “lying” in the responses they gave the group, and said their clothing had “weird symbolism or wording on it.” One of the boys was reportedly wearing a shirt for the metal band Cattle Decapitation.

Campus police arrived and pulled the two boys aside, separating them from the tour group. A subsequent search and questioning revealed they were meant to be on the tour, but by then the group had moved on and the teenagers were unable to locate them. Instead, they drove seven hours back to their home in Santa Cruz, New Mexico.

Body camera footage of the incident shows the officers questioning the teenagers about their quiet demeanor.

“People were just worried because you guys were real quiet and they didn’t know who you were because you guys didn’t show up with parents or any of that stuff,” one officer says in the video, released Friday. The boys were also asked why they did not “cooperate” and share their names with the group. Thomas Kanewakeron Gray told the police his younger brother is very shy and not accustomed to speaking up.

Lorraine Kahneratokwas Gray, mother of the boys, wrote on Facebook that the incident had greatly shaken her.

“My two teenagers were ‘patted down,’ and my 17-year-old ordered to ’empty his pockets,’ then immediately ordered to ‘keep his hands out of his pockets,’ until he was forced to ask ‘which one do you want me to do?'” she wrote.


She told reporters that the CSU trip was one her sons had saved up for and that the visit was meant to be a bonding experience between the brothers.

“It breaks my heart, because they didn’t do anything to warrant that [being searched and questioned],” Gray told reporters. “They’re walking on their own ancestors’ land, so it breaks my heart.”

Thomas Kanewakeron Gray told the Associated Press that the incident was “discriminatory” and said that he and his brother “just stayed to ourselves the whole time.”

The school has said it will refund the brothers the money they spent on the visit, but the incident has generated significant controversy and even state lawmakers have weighed in. Colorado’s Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who also serves as the chair of Colorado’s Commission on Indian Affairs, said Thursday that the event was deeply disconcerting.

“We want to reiterate our commitment to ensuring our 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,” she said.

CSU has encountered controversy before. A neo-Nazi group, the Traditional Worker Party, left flyers around the campus in February. Tension over a conservative speaker that same month led to clashes between anti-fascist protestors and a group chanting a Nazi slogan.


Several high-profile incidents of racial profiling across the country have also drawn added attention to CSU’s treatment of the Gray bothers. Most prominently, two Black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia while waiting for a friend last month. Footage of the incident — which showed the two young men in handcuffs — went viral and drew national outcry.