Remembering David Bartecchi (ANTH B.A. 1999, ANTH M.A. 2003)

David Bartecchi (ANTH B.A. ’99, ANTH M.A. ’03)

Winter 2024

Josh Zaffos

Colorado State University Department of Anthropology and Geography remembers alumnus and former instructor David Bartecchi (ANTH B.A. 1999, and ANTH M.A. 2003), who died tragically in a rafting accident on the Rogue River in Oregon September 28, 2023. Bartecchi was the executive director of Fort Collins-based nonprofit Village Earth, and is remembered as an inspirational anthropology practitioner and selfless advocate for Native American land rights and Indigenous community development through participatory community-based programs. 

As a CSU Anthropology student, Bartecchi worked with Dr. Kathleen Pickering, now professor emeritus, conducting hundreds of hours of ethnographic interviews and surveys with Oglala Sioux Tribe members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and other reservations. Their work to review and revisit census surveys, which underestimated reservation populations, helped tribes gain increased federal funds and identify other community needs in the 2000s. Bartecchi helped illustrate discrepancies and gaps through pioneering uses of geographic information systems (GIS). 

“Our careers became inseparable,” Pickering said. “Dave would see things way before other people. He had so much vision for the future, and he always brought great ideas to the table.” 

Bartecchi’s CSU fieldwork and experiences with Pickering served as the basis for much of his later work with Village Earth, collaborating with and supporting Indigenous and native communities through projects to enhance social and political empowerment, community self-reliance, and self-determination. Among many projects, Bartecchi helped Indigenous people in the Amazon map their historical boundaries, using both ethnography and GIS, to support their efforts to fight proposed oil drilling in court. In order to elevate causes, Bartecchi and colleagues also co-produced film projects about the case in the Amazon and Native Americans’ land struggles as a graduate student and afterwards, with funding support from CSU Anthropology at the time. 

Specifically at Pine Ridge, Bartecchi developed and supported initiatives to help families reclaim individual land parcels, restore bison herds, develop solar energy, and start businesses. Bartecchi also worked with tribes across the plains and Rockies on impactful programs always driven by community participation and a sense of justice to confront past land theft and discrimination. In 2019, Bartecchi and Village Earth helped launch the Native Advocacy Lands Project to partner with and support tribes’ efforts to map reservation and treaty-protected lands. 

“He was just so humble and way, way smart,” said Michael Brydge (ANTH B.A. ‘07, M.A. ‘10), who now runs and directs Sweet Grass Consulting with fellow alumna Andrea (Akers) Mader (ANTH B.A. ‘07, M.A. ‘11). Brydge first met Bartecchi as a guest speaker in one of his classes. “I remember him talking, and I said, ‘I want to be like that guy.’ At a time when GIS was still becoming more popular, Dave was already a guru at it. He had this ability to take GIS and use it in really innovative ways, and to make useful tools for the people he worked with.”  

Brydge and Mader later worked with Bartecchi and Pickering completing housing-needs assessments on Native American reservations and their organizations teamed on other projects. 

“He was someone who used his maps to make a difference, in a way that enhanced livelihoods, informed people, and built equity,” Brydge added. “He was just incredible.” 

At CSU, Bartecchi taught ANTH 200 (Cultures and the Global System), and he developed and taught the Sustainability Community Development certificate. As a mentor and professional, he also trained hundreds of students and colleagues around the world in community resource mapping and GIS skills. 

“Dave was always the kindest person in any room, and he never took anyone for granted,” Pickering said. “He just cared about people so much, and it’s why we’ll miss him.” 

Bartecchi, 48, was a Fort Collins resident and leaves behind a wife and two daughters. 


Read more about Bartecchi’s work and legacy: Tribute from Trees Water People