Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Sand Creek Massacre commission, tribe agreement announcement a long time coming

Collision, the History Colorado exhibit devoted to the Sand Creek Massacre, has made some history itself over the past two years.

And a new chapter will begin today, when Governor John Hickenlooper will announce the creation of the Sand Creek Massacre Commemorative Commission and also mark the signing of the Sand Creek Memorandum of Agreement.

That agreement has been a long time coming.

Back in March 2012, a month before the stunning new History Colorado Center was slated to open with Collision as one of the exhibits in its "Colorado Stories" section, tribal representatives made a last-ditch effort to convince officials not to open the exhibit at all.

The Sand Creek Massacre took place almost 150 years ago. But for the tribes that lost their ancestors there, the wounds are still very fresh. And plans for Collision poured salt on them, stirring more anger and mistrust.

Tribal representatives were concerned that they had not been consulted about the contents of the exhibit; they'd expressed their displeasure at length at a meeting in Montana the previous December. And with just a month until the opening, they were still worried about errors in the proposed display. History Colorado did make some of the requested fixes in Collision -- including adding an oral history station, featuring descendants of the massacre speaking in 1996. But it was not enough to satisfy the tribes. After the History Colorado opened, tribal representatives continued to ask officials to close Collision; after repeated requests were denied, they finally went public with their complaints in February 2013.

And last June, the exhibit was finally shut, while History Colorado and tribal representatives embarked on the consultations that resulted in the MOA that will be signed today. Here's the release on the start of those talks.

The result of those talks goes beyond a Memorandum of Understanding; today, tribal representatives and History Colorado will sign a Memorandum of Agreement that sets in place a protocol for History Colorado's continued dealings with the tribes. Among the representatives that will be on hand are Willard Gould, councilman, Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming; Otto Braided Hair, Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana; and Max Bear, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.

"This agreement represents a collaborative effort and expanded relationship between the state, History Colorado and the tribes to work together to educate the public about the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples' living history and culture and create awareness about the Sand Creek Massacre of November 29, 1864, in order to prevent such atrocities in the future," says the announcement from the office of Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia, which oversees the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs.

At the signing ceremony at History Colorado, Hickenlooper will also announce the creation of the Sand Creek Massacre Commemoration Commission, which he'll co-chair with Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia, and will include representatives of tribal, federal, state and local governments; historians and scholars' along with religious leaders and officials with institutions of higher learning as the state prepares for the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre.

And for now, Collision remains closed.

More from the Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "A century and a half later, the wounds of Sand Creek are still fresh."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun