It is vital that we as Coloradans remember the history of our state, not only the accomplishments but also the tragedies. As we gather with friends and loved ones to share food and build community, we can take a moment to honor the lives lost at Sand Creek and to consider both our privilege and the ways in which we can use our privilege to build a world with more justice, more equity and more peace for all.
Join the Indigenous Peoples Concern Committee in taking an action towards healing
Guest opinion: How does healing happen?
By Paula Palmer and Aya Medrud
Posted: 11/09/2012 01:00:00 AM MST
The Restorative Justice movement teaches us that everyone involved in a crime or injustice (victims, perpetrators, and the community of people whose lives are touched and altered) needs healing and must participate in the healing process.
This year, the One Action One Boulder project has pointed to a gaping wound in the Boulder Valley, a wound that goes back 150 years. We do not like to think about it because it makes good people feel bad. Still, it is undeniable: we live on land stolen from the Arapaho and Cheyenne peoples, and we are all unconscious beneficiaries of the swindle. Our community needs healing. In the coming Thanksgiving season we have an important opportunity.
As Margaret Coel recounts in her book, Chief Left Hand, most of the Eastern Slope of Colorado Territory was recognized as Cheyenne and Arapaho land in the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie. Boulder Valley was the winter home of Chief Left Hand’s band of Arapahos. But when gold was discovered, thousands of white people invaded Colorado and the Ft. Laramie treaty was quickly forgotten. Arapaho and Cheyenne leaders realized that their small bands could never prevail over the astonishingly limitless white invasion. They sought peace, and in November 1864 led their peoples to the banks of Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado, under the protection of Ft. Lyon.
Today Sand Creek is a National Historic Site commemorating the horrific massacre there of 160 unarmed Cheyenne and Arapaho women, children, and elders, who frantically waved the U.S. flag and white flags as they were gunned down. The massacre was carried out by the First Colorado Cavalry and Col. John Chivington’s all-volunteer Third Colorado Cavalry, including a company from Boulder. Historian Tom Thomas told an audience at the Native American Rights Fund last week that the gruesome killing and depraved mutilation of people’s bodies that occurred at Sand Creek are unparalleled in U.S. military history. Reports of the slaughter horrified the nation and a Congressional investigation condemned the massacre, but no one was punished. Colorado landmarks honor the perpetrators: Evans, Chivington, Downing, Nichols.
Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors who survived the Sand Creek Massacre fought back for more than a decade, but their peoples eventually were banished from Colorado. Today their descendants live in Montana, Wyoming, and Oklahoma. Colorado is remembered as a place of betrayal, horror, loss, and grief.
How does healing happen? The Arapaho and Cheyenne peoples themselves initiated a process 14 years ago, led by the beloved Northern Cheyenne elder, LaForce Lee Lonebear, who passed away this September. Lonebear’s ancestor Chief White Antelope was killed at Sand Creek. Over this month’s Thanksgiving holiday, Cheyenne and Arapaho runners will complete a 170-mile Spiritual Healing Run/Walk from the Sand Creek Massacre site to Denver in honor of LaForce Lee Lonebear. This is how they describe the Run:
“The Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run/Walk is a prayer. (It) is not a race. (It) is a commemoration for the victims and survivors of the massacre, and for healing ancestral homelands. (It) is led by an Eagle staff representing prayers of the spiritual leaders who had a vision of healing and reconciliation for the descendants of those killed at the Sand Creek Massacre site and for the future generations.”
The Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples invite us to participate in healing by returning with them for ceremonies at Sand Creek on Nov. 21, praying with them in spirit during their three-day Spiritual Healing Run/Walk, and honoring their young runners when they arrive in Denver. There will be a candlelight vigil on Nov. 24 and an official welcoming ceremony at the Capitol on Nov. 25. Event details and schedules are at one-action.org andfacebook.com/sand.creek.90.
As one step toward healing, the Boulder Friends Meeting (Quakers) is collecting donations to help cover costs of transportation, lodging, and food for the Cheyenne and Arapaho runners and elders coming from Montana, Wyoming, and Oklahoma. To contribute, please write a check to: Boulder Friends Meeting, P.O. Box 4363, Boulder CO 80306. In the memo line and on the envelope, write “Spiritual Healing Run.” Donations must be received by Nov. 16.
Through ceremony, remembrance, prayer, honoring, and running, the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples seek healing. Will we meet them on this healing path? We cannot change history, but we can seek to build honest, healthy relationships in our time, in this place.
Paula Palmer and Aya Medrud are members of the Indigenous Peoples Concerns Committee of the Boulder Friends Meeting (Quakers).