Colorado Governor on Sand Creek Massacre: 'I Want to Apologize'

Colorado Governor on Sand Creek Massacre: 'I Want to Apologize'

One hundred and fifty years ago, on November 29, 1864, roughly 700 men of the Colorado Territorial militia murdered and mutilated an estimated 160 Cheyenne and Arapaho as they rested peacefully in the southeastern region of the state. The slain were mostly women and children. On Wednesday, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper became the first of his seat to apologize for the indiscriminate killing during what is remembered as the Sand Creek Massacre.

"We should not be afraid to criticize and condemn that which is inexcusable. ... On behalf of the state of Colorado, I want to apologize," Hickenlooper said to a large crowd that had gathered on the west steps of the state capitol, according to Elizabeth Hernandez of The Denver Post. "We will not run from this history."

Cheyenne and Arapaho stand on the west steps of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver, Colorado, in recognition of the 150 years since the Sand Creek Massacre. Photo courtesy Colorado House Representative Joe Salazar.

House Representative Joe Salazar, who next year will introduce a bill to regulate Native American mascots throughout the state, told ICTMN that it's imperative governments recognize the atrocities that occurred at the behest of their predecessors. 

"I'm very solemn, and reflecting on today's events and the history behind the Sand Creek Massacre," he said. "I'm proud that our governor condemned the massacre and apologized for the massacre. Yet, with the significance of this event, we have to discuss moving forward to rectify the inequities faced by American Indians. It's simply not enough to recognize past atrocities. We have to own up to our responsibilities in moving forward." 

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper addresses a large crowd outside of the Colorado State Capitol 150 years after the Sand Creek Massacre. Photo courtesy Colorado House Representative Joe Salazar.

Billy J. Stratton, author of Buried in the Shades of Nightand assistant professor of American Indian literature and indigenous critical theory at the University of Denver, told ICTMN that he commends Hickenlooper for not softening the language regarding the atrocities that occurred during the massacre.

"Hickenlooper's speech was both profound and respectful," he said. "It was rare to hear a politician who seemed to be truly speaking from the heart and used the most unequivocal language to describe the massacre -- murder. ... Hickenlooper's words, which he said were supported by every living Colorado governor, were precise, unwavering and allowed no ambiguity. What happened at Sand Creek was horrendous and evil and that no justification of any kind can account for it."

Tessa McLean, Ojibwe and a political science student at the University of Colorado Denver, told ICTMN that today the Cheyenne continue to face signifcant threats -- namely the coal mining industry.

"As an Ojibwe woman living in Colorado, it's an honor each year to attend the candlelight vigils and ceremonies held to honor the lives lost at the Sand Creek Massacre," she said in a text message. "It's also an opportunity for me to pay my respects to the original people of the land, the Cheyenne and Arapaho. I must also pay my respects by mentioning the Northern Cheyenne who live on the Lame Deer reservation in Montana who have not found a true peace 150 years later. They are currently fighting the largest proposed open pit coal mines in their back yard. So, as many allies, relatives, friends came together to honor Sand Creek this week, I'm certain we can all come together in some form to oppose the coal mines, as many nations have come together to oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline."