Oct 6, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Haaland announces expansion of historic site marking Native American massacre

Tribal members pray outside a tepee for the victims of the 1864 Sand Creek massacre. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced Wednesday that the U.S. will expand the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site dedicated to commemorating the Native Americans slaughtered by U.S. troops in 1864.

Flashback: In November that year, U.S. soldiers attacked an encampment of roughly 750 Native people along the high banks of Sand Creek in what is now southeastern Colorado. They wounded and killed about 230 people, half of whom were women and children.

  • The mass murders came after John Evans, whom white people considered the territorial governor at the time, issued a proclamation calling on non-Native residents to "go in pursuit, kill and destroy Indians on the plains."

Driving the news: The site has acquired an additional 3,478 acres made possible through funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, according to the Department of the Interior.

  • The acquisition will allow the National Park Service, which oversees management of the site, to expand efforts to educate people on the Indigenous stories of the lands.
  • Haaland visited the site on Wednesday to make the announcement and participated in an event with leaders from the Northern Arapaho Tribe, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.
  • William Walksalong, the tribal administrator for the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, a descendant of the massacre’s victims and an advisor to the Sand Creek Massacre Foundation, said at the event Wednesday that "our people fought and ran for their lives on this sacred ground," per Colorado Newsline.
  • Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Gov. Reggie Wassana noted that they were forced to relocate to western Oklahoma as a result. "We still think of Colorado as our home," Wassana said. "We didn’t give it up voluntarily."

What they're saying: "It is our solemn responsibility at the Department of the Interior, as caretakers of America’s national treasures, to tell the story of our nation. The events that took place here forever changed the course of the Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, and Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes," Haaland said in a statement.

  • "We will never forget the hundreds of lives that were brutally taken here — men, women and children murdered in an unprovoked attack. Stories like the Sand Creek Massacre are not easy to tell but it is my duty — our duty — to ensure that they are told. This story is part of America’s story."
  • The newly acquired parcels "have significant archaeological remains of the massacre, including evidence of the village where Cheyenne and Arapaho families were camped, and an intact viewshed that is key to the historical integrity of the National Historic Site," added Janet Frederick, who serves as superintendent of the site.

The big picture: The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site was established in 2007; much of the land is considered sacred by the Northern and Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.

Worth noting: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed an executive order last August rescinding Evans' proclamation, which Polis said "shamefully targeted and endangered the lives" of Indigenous people.

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