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Sand Creek Massacre Anniversary: New exhibit rebuilds trust

History Colorado consulted with tribal representatives to create a new exhibit about the state’s deadliest day.
History Colorado opened an exhibit Nov. 19 that details the Sand Creek Massacre and its impact on the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.

Tuesday marks the anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre — an attack by the U.S. Army in 1864 on the Cheyenne and Arapaho people that left more than 230 dead.

A new History Colorado Center exhibit in Denver commemorates the victims and shows the impact of the massacre on survivors.

Tribal representatives celebrated the opening of the exhibit Nov. 19 — a decade after a previous Colorado exhibit about the massacre was criticized for inadequate consultation with Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples.

The development of the new exhibit included years of consultation and collaboration with tribal representatives, and this time, History Colorado got it right, said Fred Mosqueda Sr., a Southern Arapaho tribal elder and descendant of massacre survivors.

“It tells a truthful story,” he said. “It does a good job of explaining who we are, what happened during the time of the massacre and the present.”

Mosqueda, who lives in Oklahoma, traveled to the site of the Sand Creek Massacre near Eads in southeast Colorado, to attend a memorial service Tuesday morning alongside other tribal representatives in remembrance of the victims.

“The reason why we do this is because of the way that they were butchered — their remains and bodies were torn apart, and parts were removed — they weren’t afforded a proper burial, proper protocol that Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes use when they send their loved ones off,” Mosqueda explained.

“What we’re trying to do is help those restless spirits — help to ease them in their suffering. And also to let them know that we’ve never forgotten.”

Mosqueda, who lost several ancestors in the massacre, said the mass killing damaged trust in the government, and that mistrust still exists today.

“I used to hear some people say, ‘I don’t like that flag’ — thinking of the United States flag, and I was always thinking, ‘why don’t they respect the country?’ But it was the fact that it was put on a pole and they were told that this would keep them from being attacked, and it didn’t,” he said.

The History Colorado exhibit includes the many details that led to that mistrust, said David Allison, history coordinator with the city and county of Broomfield. 

“It was a way for the territorial Gov. John Evans at the time to open up and push out the Cheyenne and Arapaho for white settlement — it represents broken treaties as well,” Allison explained. 

“The Sand Creek Massacre was a betrayal of the Cheyenne and Arapaho people and one that is certainly not forgotten in that community, and not forgotten in any community. It’s a lifelong lesson for those of us who live in Colorado to continue to mourn and then also to learn from,” Allison said.

Allison visited the exhibit Friday with several of his colleagues. He said it’s important for people of all ages to visit the History Colorado Center to learn about the massacre.

“This history of violence and of hate and racism — all of those things are so bound up in who we are today and it’s important to share that, and share that there can be hope for a future that doesn’t involve those things, you know — learn from the past, and forge relationships today that restore and revive each other.” Allison explained. 

The exhibit, and the memorial service held at the Sand Creek Massacre site Tuesday, not only honor the lives lost, but also the resilience of victims’ relatives after the mass killing, Mosqueda explained.

“We are still here,” Mosqueda said. “No matter what the territorial government tries to do to us, we are still here as a people. And as we come back to that place, we want to educate on who we are and what this means to us — what we are trying to do by returning every anniversary.”