Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Sand Creek massacre: Tribes, History Colorado to consult on exhibit while Collision is closed

When a wrong is almost 150 years old, righting it may not be quick. That's one of the many lessons of the Sand Creek Massacre, a stain on Colorado history that stretches back to November 29, 1864, when Colonel John Chivington led 700 troops on a raid of a peaceful Indian camp at Sand Creek, killing at least 150 members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, most of them women, children and elderly men.

Today, the tribes and History Colorado are trying to find common ground.

[jump]

When the History Colorado Center opened, one of its core exhibits was Collision: The Sand Creek Massacre 1860s to Today -- but the exhibit put History Colorado on a collision course with descendents of the tribes at Sand Creek.

A year later, the exhibit may finally be closed -- at least temporarily, while the tribes and History Colorado enter into what both hope will be a "meaningful consultation."

Members of the tribes expressed concerns with the exhibit's content -- and History Colorado's failure to consult with them -- even before the facility opened. They shared them with representatives of History Colorado in December 2011 at a meeting in Montana near the Northern Cheyenne reservation; they repeated them the following March, asking that the exhibit not open when the History Colorado Center made its debut in April 2012. But although History Colorado officials did make some changes in the content of Collision, when the center opened, the exhibit did, too.

The Northern Cheyenne renewed their request that the exhibit to be closed in a series of letters last fall; History Colorado declined to do so.

Finally, on April 10, Ed Nichols, the president of History Colorado, sent this letter to the Northern Cheyenne:

History Colorado would like to invite delegates from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and Descendants of the Sand Creek Massacre to consult with History Colorado staff and advisors to review the exhibit devoted to the Sand Creek Massacre at the History Colorado Center.

To underscore our sincerity in wishing to engage in meaningful consultation, History Colorado will close the exhibit to the public during consultation and while any agreed-upon changes resulting from the consultation are made to the exhibit. Further, History Colorado will appoint a representative to work with the Cheyenne and Arapaho people in the future to ensure future collaboration is conducted with mutual respect, is characterized by the free exchange of ideas, and aspires to present interpretation that is accurate, meaningful and effective.

We have asked the Executive Director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, Ernest House, Jr., to recommend a facilitator for the consultation, and he will send that name to you for your consideration....

It is our sincere wish that this consultation, and future consultations, will aid in re-establishing the productive relationship History Colorado has enjoyed with the Cheyenne and Arapaho people in the past and will result in an exhibit that reflects the profound importance of Sand Creek to all people. We look forward to hearing from you.

Now, the answer from the Northern Cheyenne has finally arrived at History Colorado, which released this statement: "The tribes have agreed to a facilitated consultation and we are optimistic about productive discussions in the near future. The next steps include working with CCIA and the tribes on scheduling and logistics."

And some of those logistics could come as soon as today, when the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs will hold a conference call to discuss the agenda for its upcoming quarterly meeting of the CCIA set for May 31 at the Ute Mountain Casino. One of the discussion topics for that call: "Sand Creek Massacre Tribal Consultation Update."

Want to see the source of the controversy? Collision remains open -- for now -- at History Colorado.

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

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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