Today @ Colorado State has been replaced by SOURCE. This site exists as an archive of Today @ Colorado State stories between January 1, 2009 and September 8, 2014.


A life of service

May 23, 2011
by Kendall Greenwood

When Julie Sullivan traveled to the Zapatista Zone in Chiapas, Mexico, for the first time in 2002, she and other travelers were met by armed militia who threw their backpacks on the ground and pushed people around.

Julie Sullivan works close to home at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.Shaky start turns into long service

Although the moment was frightening, Sullivan and the others safely finished their travels. The trip was part of Sullivan’s master’s project to study the Zapatistas, an autonomous group of indigenous people who live in Chiapas.

She learned about the Zapatistas years ago for a class research paper as a CSU student. Soon after, she attended the “First Hemispheric Conference on the Militarization of South America” in Chiapas.

“I saw there were a lot of opportunities for me to contribute medical knowledge,” Sullivan says. “I went to the Zapatista leaders and asked them if there was anything I could offer based on my background.” From that time forward, Sullivan has provided support, humanitarian aid, and training to the Zapatista’s health clinic system.

Challenging career

Before attending CSU, Sullivan worked in emergency medical services in Larimer County for 27 years. She started the job as the fourth woman in Colorado to be a paramedic. “I entered that field in an era where women weren’t really allowed,” Sullivan says. “It was very challenging.”

She faced those challenges head-on and started a training academy for emergency services that trained 3,000 people a year.

“I saw what I perceived as a lot of lives that could have been saved if people on the scene had basic training,” Sullivan says. Those skills turned out to be essential when she started researching the Zapatistas.

“I was encouraged to help with their health clinics,” Sullivan says. “They were putting health clinics all through the mountains of Chiapas so that people in those mountain communities could have access to health care.”

Protecting human rights and health

The health clinics Sullivan is helping to start are important to the Zapatista’s quest for basic human rights and autonomy. In 1994, the Zapatistas fought Mexico to protect their land and way of life and because Mexico doesn’t provide health care, education, or other similar services. Sullivan did an extensive study on what was and wasn’t working in the health clinics there.

Sullivan has been to Chiapas once a year for the past eight years. When she first went there, the Zapatistas had six clinics – now there are 11. When she visits the area, she teaches emergency medical training and brings pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and laptops. After being involved in emergency medical services for so long, Sullivan is well aware of the type of medicine that’s needed.

“As a paramedic, you have minimal equipment but basically you just use your hands and your brains,” Sullivan says.

New worlds

Sullivan grew up in the small town of Comfrey, Minn., and experienced effects of racism. When she took Native American history, a whole new world opened up. She found herself facing new challenges – and surmounting them – as a non-traditional student and a single mother who had never taken a college course in her life. She also worked full time while attending college.

She earned her bachelor’s in anthropology in 2004 and master’s in 2009 with an emphasis in Native American, Chicano, and ethnic studies from Colorado State. She now is an adjunct professor in the Ethnic Studies Department. She also serves as a KEY Service Community facilitator and academic director for the Iraqi Young Leaders Program for Undergraduate Students in International Programs.

Sullivan’s son, Alex, who started going to Chiapas with her when he was 15, is now her translator and research assistant. Her two other sons also are involved in Sullivan's other service projects.

Pine Ridge

In addition to her service overseas, Sullivan does volunteer work on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Every year she does a coat drive for school children and elders. She brings students to the reservation to do service work such as chopping firewood, building buffalo fences, and repairing houses.

Sullivan also has a holiday gift project with David Bartecchi from Village Earth where they contribute hundreds of gifts through a network of friends to children, teenagers, and elders.