THIS DAY IN HISTORY: 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho Massacred at Sand Creek

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Robert Lindneaux describes his concept of the Sand Creek massacre. (Photo/Courtesy of History Colorado H.6130.37)
THIS DAY IN HISTORY: Monday, November 29, 2022 marks the anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre in which approximately 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho were killed at the hands of 675 U.S. soldiers known as the Colorado Territory Militia .
Among the dead on November 29, 1864 were at least 105 women, children, and elders.
The soldiers were ordered by Colonel John M. Chivington to attack a village of about 750 Cheyenne and Arapaho along the Sand Creek River in Colorado.
For years, the United States has been involved in conflicts over territorial rights with several Native American tribes. The Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851 had granted the Indians extensive territory, but the Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1858 and other factors had prompted the United States to renegotiate the terms of the treaty. In 1861, the Treaty of Fort Wise was signed by the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs.
The treaty took much of the land given to the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho by the earlier treaty and reduced the size of their reservation to about 1/13th of the original amount.
Although the peace-seeking chiefs signed the treaty to ensure the safety of their people, not all tribes were happy with the decision. In particular, a group of Native Americans known as the Dog Soldiers, composed of Cheyenne and Lakota people, were vehemently opposed to having white settlers on what the Native Americans still called their lands.
The Sand Creek Massacre had a major impact on Cheyenne and Arapaho traditional knowledge, language, ceremonies, and many other cultural traditions. Thirteen Cheyenne Chiefs were killed, along with four Cheyenne Society Headmen and one Arapaho Chief. These individuals were the connection of these tribes to their culture and way of life. Without these individuals, fewer people were left to pass on traditions, language, and song.
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It was another dark chapter in American history. This tragedy and others such as Wounded Knee and the Bear River Massacre are often left out of the memory and teaching of United States history.
It is important that the people of the United States are aware of the tragedies inflicted on Native Americans by the US government. Because of this, Cheyenne and Arapaho residents gather each year to mark the anniversary of the event.
The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site was established in 2007. In October of this year, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) announced that the United States had purchased nearly 3,500 acres of prairie land to expand the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. Haaland and National Park Service Chuck Sams III (Umatilla) visited Sand Creek with US Senators from Colorado Michael Bennet (D-CO) and John Hickenlooper (D-CO). The federal officials were joined by leaders of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, and the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.
"We will never forget the hundreds of lives that were brutally killed here - men, women and children murdered in an unprovoked attack," Haaland said in a written statement. "Stories like the Sand Creek massacre are not easy to tell, but it is my duty - our duty - to see that they are told."
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In a long-overdue gesture, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed an executive order in August 2021 repealing two 19th-century proclamations granting the right to kill Native Americans. Polis called the two proclamations that set the stage for the Sand Creek massacre "shameful."
The Sand Creek Massacre Foundation website states, "The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site is where their spirits reside, where we come to learn, to remember, to heal, and to ensure that such atrocities." never happen again."
Editor's note: This story, originally published in 2021, has been updated to reflect Minister Haaland's announcement and visit to the Sand Creek massacre in October 2022.
About the author: “Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, editor and publisher of Native News Online. Rickert received the Native American Journalists Association's 2021 Native Media Award for best column in the print/online category. He serves on the Advisory Board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at levi@nativenewsonline.net."
Contact: levi@nativenewsonline.net

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