Seven months after the Northern Cheyenne tribe sent its last letter to History Colorado demanding that Collision: The Sand Creek Massacre 1860s to Today be closed, fourteen months after History Colorado opened its new building with that exhibit in place despite earlier protests, and nearly 149 years after the Sand Creek massacre itself, History Colorado officials met last month with tribal representatives for an official consultation on that exhibit — and much more. And as the meeting got under way at the History Colorado Center, Collision was finally closed to the public.
The exhibit devoted to the November 29, 1864, massacre of 150 people in a peaceful camp on Sand Creek — most of them women, children and the elderly — was considered one of the core "Colorado Stories" components when the History Colorado Center opened in April 2012. But tribal members weren't the only ones who had trouble with Collision: Historians complained from the start about not just the content — including inaccuracies in dates and spellings — but also its dumbed-down, Disneyfied style.
Although for months History Colorado resisted any attempts to close the display, this past April, History Colorado head Ed Nichols finally sent a letter to tribal representatives, agreeing to close the exhibit during a tribal consultation that would be facilitated by the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. Troy Eid, the former U.S. Attorney for Colorado, was chosen to mediate the meeting between History Colorado and official representatives of the Northern Cheyenne of Montana, the Northern Arapaho of Wyoming, and the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes of Oklahoma.
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Those tribes lived in Colorado before the Sand Creek Massacre cut them off from their homes and their culture. "What happened at Sand Creek — you had leadership of very prominent nations completely destroyed, then exiled and never allowed to recover," says Eid. "Sand Creek is with us now the way it was with us in the past. It's central to everything that happens to Colorado today, in our daily lives."
And so the initial consultation involved much more than just the contents of a single exhibit — although the exhibit was certainly part of the discussion. At the end of the first day, on June 18, the group toured Collision, with tribal representatives — many of whom had not yet seen it — "correcting errors and otherwise expressing their views on the exhibit," says Eid. Although much of the conversation during the consultation remains confidential, he does note that "there will be some changes in the exhibit."
There will also be changes in the relationship between the tribes and History Colorado, as well as other state officials, as Colorado prepares to mark the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre. As a joint release from all parties after the second day noted, before the next round of meetings in a month or two, they're "developing a joint Memorandum of Understanding to guide their current and future relations. The purpose of the MOU will be to educate the public about the Cheyenne and Arapaho people and the Sand Creek Massacre, and to prevent such tragedies from ever happening again.
After 150 years, it's about time.