Campus & Community / DU Alumni / Magazine Feature

TEDxDU talk about Native American reparations goes global

When photojournalist Aaron Huey (BFA ’99) took the TEDxDU stage in May and called for the U.S. to honor its treaties with American Indians, his message reached a few thousand people.

Now he has the potential to reach a global audience of millions.

Huey’s TEDx presentation — “America’s native prisoners of war” — is being featured on, whose TEDTalks videos have been viewed more than 300 million times since 2006. A feature spot on is a rare honor: TEDxDU organizers estimate that there have been some 10,000 TEDx talks to date, but only 31 have been featured on the TED homepage.

TED is a nonprofit devoted to “ideas worth spreading.” At TED conferences, leading scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs and artists present their ideas in 18 minutes or less. TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. Huey was one of 17 presenters at the University of Denver’s inaugural TEDx event in May 2010.

Huey’s work as a photojournalist has taken him to nearly every continent, and his images have been featured by the likes of The New Yorker and National Geographic. He spent five years documenting the struggles of the native Lakota people living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where 90 percent of residents live below the poverty line, 70 percent drop out of school and the infant mortality rate is three times the national average.

Huey’s TEDxDU presentation combined emotional storytelling and haunting images to educate, inform, inspire and provoke. He used the TEDxDU stage to issue a call to action: “Honor the treaties. Give back the Black Hills.”

“This is how we came to own these United States. This is the legacy of manifest destiny,” Huey says in the talk as an image of a Lakota man being led from his home in handcuffs appears on the screen behind him. “Prisoners are still born into prisoner of war camps long after the guards are gone. These are the bones left after the best meat has been taken.”

TED viewers testify to the emotional power of Huey’s presentation, describing it as courageous, persuasive and informative.

“I want my sadness to turn to anger, and my anger to turn to action. This injustice has stood for too long,” viewer Eric Bass commented on

“I have been shouting about this for so long that my throat hurts,” viewer Sarah Kuhr added. “I am so glad that you have finally said what others will not say.”

DU student Lance Tsosie is pleased that Huey’s presentation will reach a wider audience.

“‘America’s native prisoners of war’ made me stop and think. It addresses the issue in a different way — [that] we are prisoners of a camp that was abandoned and forgotten,” says Tsosie, president of DU’s Native Student Alliance and a member of the Navajo Nation.

“Although we may be from different tribes, we are still connected; they are my brothers and sisters,” Tsosie adds. “To this day, the pain is still here and I see it all across Native America. The cry for help has been shushed for too long. This is an issue that must be addressed, and soon. We as a nation, a people, cannot allow such a vibrant, rich and beautiful culture to be lost, devalued and overlooked.”



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