Aug 17, 2021 - Politics

Colorado governor rescinds 1864 policy of violence against Native Americans

Photo of Jared Polis in a black suit and a face mask that displays the Colorado seal

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. Photo: Chet Strange via Getty Images

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order Tuesday rescinding centuries-old proclamations calling on non-Native residents to "go in pursuit, kill and destroy Indians on the plains."

Why it matters: The policy, issued by Territorial Gov. John Evans in 1864, "shamefully targeted and endangered the lives" of Indigenous people, the Democratic governor said at the signing ceremony.

  • Native Americans have said for decades that the proclamations violated established treaty rights and federal Indian law as well as contributed to their "turbulent genocidal history."
  • They continue to "feel the harmful effects of this appalling policy," the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes said in a statement released before the signing.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Russ Contreras: The order is significant since Colorado is the site of the Sand Creek Massacre — one of the worst mass murders in U.S. history.

  • Shortly after the proclamations were fully implemented, the U.S. Army attacked Cheyenne and Arapaho people.
    • The tribal members believed they were under the protection of the U.S. Army and even approached the unit with white flags.
    • For two days, the troops shot and hunted fleeing women and children throughout a 35-square-mile region, killing and mutilating roughly 230 Native Americans. Today the grounds are a national historic site.
  • Indigenous people in Colorado have long felt there has never been a full acknowledgment of the atrocities committed against them, especially since high schools like Lamar High continue to use the "Savages" as their mascot.

What they're saying: The governor signed the executive order to hoots and cheers from the crowd, with members of the Southern Ute, Ute Mountain, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes standing at his back.

  • "We are tearing down this awful symbol of hate," Polis said in his address.

The order will finally remove the threat of death for Colorado Natives, tribal representatives said.

  • "We can't change history. We can only make it right," Ute Mountain Ute Treasurer Austin Turtle said at the ceremony, urging other states to pursue similar action.
  • "The truth of this history must be told, and only then can the healing begin. Once there is truth, and documented wrongdoing, there must be reconciliation," Richard B. Williams, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, said in a statement.
  • "The honor of the people of the State of Colorado and the Nation is on the line. They failed before but now have an opportunity to help the original inhabitants of the land."

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