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Now is the perfect time to educate the youth of both Colorado and the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes about the state’s history, particularly the Sand Creek Massacre, so that everyone can start the …
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Now is the perfect time to educate the youth of both Colorado and the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes about the state’s history, particularly the Sand Creek Massacre, so that everyone can start the healing process, tribal representatives recently told the Clear Creek commissioners.
In November, the Oklahoma-based Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes filed a federal petition to rename Mount Evans to Mount Blue Sky, a name significant to both tribes.
Colorado’s then-territorial Gov. John Evans is believed to have authorized the Sand Creek Massacre in which American soldiers fired on and killed Cheyenne and Arapaho civilians.
The Mount Blue Sky petition and at least three others to rename the peak are being evaluated by a state advisory board, which will then make a recommendation to the federal naming board. The tribes are hopeful for a decision by this summer.
Clear Creek has registered as neutral on all the petitions, but Commissioner Randy Wheelock said the county will hear from the community before deciding which petition, if any, to support.
The county commissioners hosted a Dec. 22 work session with members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes not to discuss the merits or demerits of any petition but to become acquainted with the historical purpose behind the issue, Wheelock said.
“It’s just an opportunity for (tribal representatives) to come in and speak to us about their history, position and beliefs,” Wheelock continued.
The land as a history book
Crystal C’Bearing, deputy director of the Northern Arapaho’s tribal historic preservation office, described how the Arapaho once lived in bands ranging from Canada to Mexico, and how Colorado became a hub for several tribes. They hosted ceremonies and gathered plants for medicines.
“A lot of our youth think our reservation is the only thing we’ve got,” she continued. “They don’t realize that we were all over this continent. They don’t connect to that.”
C’Bearing described taking a group of youth to Colorado for a basketball tournament and showing them the site of a council tree, saying, “We want the kids to have that connection to who we are. The land is our history books; it tells the story.”
More importantly, she said, the tribes still use the land to gather and pray. The ceremonies haven’t been eliminated, and she hopes these gatherings can be an opportunity for people to share their cultures and histories, and build better relationships.
“It’s the perfect time to educate not only our tribe’s community but also the citizens of Colorado about the history,” she said. “ … It’s not pretty how things came to be. We have to have some tough conversations along the way, and that’s the only way we’re going to heal.”
Chester Whiteman, Cheyenne coordinator of the Culture Program of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, said that the name Mount Evans causes a lot of intergenerational trauma among his community and that the peak’s name needs to be replaced to begin the healing process.
“This isn’t the only incident or atrocity that’s happened to our people,” he said, referring to the Sand Creek Massacre. “ … I would appreciate a good, hard push to change this name.”
Fred Mosqueda, who is Whiteman’s counterpart from the Arapaho Tribe, said he’s excited to see how much support the Mount Blue Sky petition has gained since it was filed. He added that he’s looking forward to working with Clear Creek and other counties on this issue.
Along with Wheelock, both Commissioners George Marlin and Sean Wood thanked the representatives for sharing their experiences and perspectives, with Marlin saying, “It’s a real service for all our board members to understand what happened.”
Wheelock said it was one of the best meetings he’s attended in his four years as a commissioner in terms of being helpful and educational.
Whiteman and his colleagues appreciated the commissioners’ willingness to listen, saying, “I know we can’t change history, but we can change how we handle the future history.”
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