NAISA holds annual Sand Creek Massacre commemoration

Catherine Henderson, Reporter

On the day of the Sand Creek Massacre, Chief White Antelope rushed to tell American soldiers his people meant no harm. When the men continued firing, he crossed his arms over his chest and began to sing.

Descendents of the massacre’s victims — Otto Braided Hair, Gail Ridgely, George Levi and Al Addison — sang the same song Saturday at a commemoration for the 153rd anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre. About 60 people attended the event, which was hosted by NU’s Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance in Scott Hall.

On Nov. 29, 1864, U.S. troops attacked the peaceful encampment of the Cheyenne and Arapaho at Sand Creek near current-day Eads, Colorado, despite its white flag of surrender. John Evans — who founded NU, Evanston and the University of Denver — was the territorial governor of Colorado and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at the time of the massacre.

Ridgely, who is Northern Arapaho, said the massacre killed 20 chiefs and profoundly affected the political structure of the Cheyenne and Arapaho.

“Historically, the U.S. government had the intentions of genocide,” Ridgely told The Daily. “Four million natives were killed by Western expansion.”

In 2014, NU released a report stating that “no known evidence indicates that Evans helped plan the Sand Creek Massacre or had any knowledge of it in advance.” Nevertheless, associate provost and chief diversity officer Jabbar Bennett said the University has a responsibility to indigenous communities because it is on native land.

“Northwestern is making progress, but we still have a ways to go to continue to acknowledge our past and any role we may have played in the genocide of Native American and indigenous people implicitly through our connection with John Evans,” Bennett said.

Bennett said students “bore the brunt” of previous work commemorating Sand Creek and that he wants to provide more administrative support going forward.

Lois Biggs, co-president of NAISA, said this was NU’s fourth Sand Creek Massacre memorialization.

“The commemoration is something that students have such an important role in, and I think it’s really great that it’s an event that has so much student input,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “We can really organize something that we think truly commemorates what happened in an honest, thoughtful and honoring way.”

Beyond student efforts, Biggs said she felt a “greater sense of community” with Cheyenne and Arapaho elders and local indigenous people.

Ridgely thanked NAISA for welcoming him to Evanston and making him feel at home in a city whose founder considered his ancestors “hostile Indians.”

“I’m impressed with Northwestern students because they have that spiritual feeling about Sand Creek,” Ridgely said. “Intrinsically, they value human life and human rights.”

At the event, NAISA unveiled plans to display an art installation in the Evans room of Norris University Center. Biggs said it would feature responses from Evans, letters from U.S. soldiers who refused to kill and quotes from descendants. It will also include art from Levi, one of the descendants.

Biggs said NAISA members will also join descendants next week for the Sand Creek Massacre Healing Run/Walk, in which participants walk nearly 200 miles from the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site to the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. This is the second year NU students will participate.

“The (Sand Creek Massacre) site is one of the most silent places I’ve ever been,” said Biggs, who attended the event last year. “Going to the site, you feel the heaviness and you feel the sadness and you can feel that there’s something tragic that happened there, but you can also feel a sense of healing.”

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