Matt Makley, Ph.D., professor of history

Matthew Makley, professor of History

“Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” –Bruce Lee

Secret poet, water buffalo, and perennial jock Matt Makley, PhD. claims he wasn’t a very good student in school but is now a popular professor of history. These days he spends his time while off campus with his family road-tripping, camping, visiting hot springs and finding outdoor adventures in wild places.

Makley is familiar with wild places as he was born and raised in the Lake Tahoe region, and his heart has remained true to the land and people there. He’s dedicated to preserving the culture in Tahoe and the indigenous Washoe tribe that have lived in Tahoe for thousands of generations; so much that he has written two books about the Washoe people.

When he’s not mountain biking or snowboarding with his wife and sons, he’s teaching multi-cultural and Native American History at MSU Denver. Check out Makley’s personal museum of Native American culture in his office in Central.

  1. This photo of Sarah Winnemucca brings me inspiration. She was a Northern Paiute woman who lived in Tahoe and was a fierce advocate for the rights of her people and the first native woman to publish an autobiography. Being from the same region as Sarah I feel a connection. I admire her strength and fearlessness. 
  2. The Eagle was given to me by Dr. Stephen Leonard, long time chair of the History Department.  The eagle is an iconic American symbol but to me it is a gift from one of the most outstanding, living historians of the American West.  The corn that sits with the eagle was given to me by a student from MSU Denver’s Journey Through our Heritage cultural program, and represents the connectivity between native people and Hispanic people on this campus. (The corn is) a symbol of American Indian history and native people’s use of maize and the deep cultural associations it has for them. These two (artifacts) together help ground me and remind me of both my responsibilities to both my students and mentors.
  3. The book covers for my books, The Small Shall be Strong (about the Washoe people) was published in 2018, and Cave Rock which I co-authored with my father, Michael J. Makley. (Cave Rock) is a book about a Washoe Indian sacred site on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, which became the center of a monumental legal struggle and resulted in the first time in American history when an Indian communities’ concern over a sacred site resulted in mandated protections on federal lands.
  4. A photograph of the West Fork of the Carson River as it carves its way out of Hope Valley, was taken by a dear family friend of a place deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  I love Hope Valley—that is a place my family has visited for almost 100 years, we camp there often– it is a place of strength and beauty for me.
  5. Keep Tahoe Blue and Keep Tahoe Washo stickers anchor me to home. The Keep Tahoe Blue sticker is pretty popular around the American West.  The Keep Tahoe Washo sticker is a play-off of that, to remind people that Washoes were at Tahoe first. The Washoe have lived in the Tahoe region for 10,000 years, despite that they own very little property at their ancestral lake. It is important for us “newcomers” to understand and respect their long tenure and deep associations with Tahoe. 
  6. This graphic of Colorado State’s divestment in higher education is something everyone on campus should have in their office.  It demonstrates the steady decline in state funding for higher education in Colorado.  If we continue on this current trajectory, the state will stop funding higher education all together.  I don’t think people fully understand what is happening to higher education here in Colorado. The costs, then, are left to be covered by student tuition and fees. So that is something all of us who believe in higher education need to be deeply concerned with. I like to look at that to remind myself that we do more with less, and our students deserve more.

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