Sand Creek Massacre story has universal importance

The story of the Sand Creek Massacre is a difficult one to tell -- but also a critical one to tell, and tell right. That's why the Northern Cheyenne are so disappointed with Collision, the History Colorado exhibit, that they have asked it be taken down. That's why two lectures by University of Colorado Davis professor Ari Kelman, author of A Misplaced Massacre, have already sold out, and a third added for 3:30 p.m. today. And that's why when Richard Steckel started putting together an exhibit devoted to conflict resolution, he thought about Sand Creek.

Steckel, the former director of the Denver Children's Museum, and his wife, Michele, head the Milestones Project, "the only project of its kind determined to heal the world's divisions by simply sharing the undeniable pictures of our common humanity." But they also research other projects, and were commissioned to pull together stories on conflict resolution for Talking It Out: Getting to Agreement, an exhibit that debuted last October during Conflict Resolution Month, and has since traveled to several spots across the state; it will be at the University of Colorado next fall.

The Steckels put together twenty possible stories, including one on the Sand Creek Massacre; seven were chosen. Sand Creek was not among them.

Steckel knew Sand Creek was a difficult topic to tackle. "We interpret conflict resolution differently," he says. "But these are compelling stories we learn from, even if it's negative learning."

And there are many lessons to be learned from the Sand Creek Massacre -- including, as History Colorado and the National Parks Service discovered, how difficult it is to tell the story of Sand Creek in a way that will work for native Americans, for whom it is still an open wound.

"The Sand Creek story that we talked about was going to knock people's socks off," Steckel says."We ached when that story got yanked. We thought it had universal importance.

An estimated 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho -- mostly elderly men, women and children -- were killed by Colonel John Chivington's troops at Sand Creek, where they were camped peacefully and, they thought, under the protection of the United States government. "We don't want Sand Creek to ever happen again," Steckel says."It's such a social justice story. It really is linked to movement around the world of people of color, usually, who has been denied their rights."

As for the exhibit at History Colorado, Steckel says, "Where's the emotion? Where is the power of the story? Where is the story that says, you know, this is one of many massacres that took place all over the West?"

From the Calhoun: Wakeup Call archive: "Silas Soule's letter tells the true story of Sand Creek, but like the massacre, it was misplaced."

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