U.S. Interior Secretary Harland announces expansion of Colorado’s Sand Creek Massacre Historic Site

The site preserves short-grass prairie lands in the eastern Colorado plains, where more than 750 Native Americans lived in camp in the mid-1800s. American soldiers attacked the community in an attempt to drive the tribes out of the area.

That attack escalated into the massacre of at least 230 people, including dozens of women and children.

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Mike Bearcomesout, Keeper of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe’s Holy Hat, delivers closing remarks.

For generations, the Horde has considered the location of the Holy Land of Bloodshed. But it wasn’t officially preserved as a memorial by the federal government until 2007.

Since then, Aboriginal advocates and government officials have worked to expand the site’s footprint by buying from surrounding private landowners.

The most recent acquisition cost about $3.3 million from two private owners, which came from federal conservation funds, officials said. Tribal leaders will consult with NPS managers in the coming months to determine any future development plans.

Currently, new land within the historic site will be open to the public to learn about the Holocaust.

Officials speaking at Wednesday’s dedication ceremony urged U.S. citizens to visit the site near the town of Eads and to remember the incident as an atrocity that should not be repeated.

“We can’t rely on the history books written by the people who colonized these lands to remember these stories,” Sec said. Haaland spoke to the crowd. “We must invest in opportunities like this that provide survivors and their descendants with the opportunity to have real and honest conversations directly.”

Eli Imadali of Colorado Public Radio
Interior Minister Deb Haaland spoke at a ceremony commemorating the Sand Creek Massacre and announced the expansion of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, more than doubling the size of the park.

Harland becomes the country’s first Native American to serve on a presidential cabinet when President Joe Biden appoints him to the presidential cabinet in 2021. She has since made “healing the abyss” a central part of her agenda with Aboriginal communities.

She told the crowd that preserving historic sites of Native American history has always been a key part of that. Harland, along with Colorado officials, is also working to rename geographic locations in the American West with racist or offensive names.

“Today is a sign that we’re making progress. But it’s not the end of the journey,” Haaland said. “We have more work to do to heal the wounds of tribal communities.”

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Cheyenne and Arapaho Nation Governor Reggie Wassana presented Interior Secretary Deb Harland with a blanket during the ceremony.

Colorado Democratic Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper joined other state and local officials at Wednesday’s dedication ceremony to show their support. Tribal community members from as far away as Oklahoma and Montana participated.

Many described the mood as gloomy but hopeful.

William Walk, a tribal administrator of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and a direct descendant of Sand Creek victims, became emotional as he discussed adding more lands, which he said contained places sacred to his culture. He told stories of the Holocaust passed down to him by his elders.

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Cheyenne Northern Tribe Chief William Walker spoke at the ceremony.

One that struck him was the story of a group of Cheyenne women who hid in tents during the attack. The group sent a 4-year-old girl outside the building to plead for the group’s life.

U.S. soldiers did not agree to the request, Walks Also said.

“Humans can be cruel and do terrible things to other people,” he told the crowd. “But today I saw the glorious effort of the United States and other nations to restore the dignity of our people. I thank them.”

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Alexandria Cartwright of Southern Arapaho, who drove a few hours from Oklahoma with her family to attend, wore her beaded hat and listened at the ceremony.

Community members offered a range of views on how to take advantage of the historic site’s expanded footprint.

Ideas range from ecological conservation to public education to agriculture, such as raising cattle.

“We want to remember what happened to our people, but we also want our people today to work hard and look to the future,” Chief Spottedwolf said. “That’s what we have to start doing instead of being distracted all the time.”

Eli Imadali of Colorado Public Radio
About 100 people listen at a ceremony on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, to commemorate the Sand Creek Massacre and announce the expansion of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, which is more than twice the size of the park.

At the end of Wednesday’s ceremony, Arapaho and Cheyenne tribe members shared prayers and sang memorial songs.

The tribe also presents special blankets to government officials involved in conservation deals. Leaders wrap blankets around their shoulders in a gesture of friendship.


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