NAISA commemorates 158th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, reiterates demands to NU

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Esther Lim/The Daily Northwestern

NAISA members stop at The Rock during their procession to commemorate the Sand Creek Massacre on Thursday.

Joanna Hou, Assistant Design Editor

Content warning: This article contains mentions of death and anti-Indigenous violence. 

On Nov. 29, 1864, Col. John Chivington led soldiers to kill about 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho people, who were trying to negotiate peace, in what is known today as the Sand Creek Massacre. Most of those who died were women, children or the elderly — and Northwestern co-founder John Evans played a role in their deaths. 

Almost 158 years after the massacre, dozens of people gathered at the John Evans Alumni Center on Thursday to walk in a procession to observe the mass murder. The event was hosted by the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance, Multicultural Student Affairs and the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion. 

Evans was the territorial governor of Colorado and the region’s superintendent of Indian Affairs at the time of the massacre. He issued two 1864 proclamations targeting Indigenous peoples. 

On June 27 of that year, Evans asked “friendly Indians” to gather at specific camps, threatening those who did not comply. On Aug. 11, he issued a proclamation that authorized citizens in his territory “to kill and destroy, as enemies of the country … all such hostile Indians.” After three separate congressional investigations into the massacre, President Andrew Johnson asked Evans to resign, and Evans did so in 1865. 

“The University doesn’t really address this history of John Evan’s involvement with Sand Creek,” said SESP sophomore and NAISA co-Chair Athena GoingSnake, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who is also Muscogee Creek. “It says he didn’t have any involvement. But at the University of Denver, they did research and found that John Evans actually was a part of Sand Creek.” 

While NU found in its own report Evans did not plan or know about the massacre in advance, the University of Denver found him “central” to the attack

After an opening song, GoingSnake and NAISA co-Chair Isabella Twocrow, a SESP senior who is Oglala Lakota and a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, gave remarks where they called for remembrance and accountability. MSA Associate Director Aaron Golding, a Seneca Nation member, then spoke about this year’s theme for Native American Heritage Month at NU: being a good relative. 

“As you walk through campus, (we ask) that you think about our Cheyenne and Arapaho relatives as you would your familial relatives, that you hold them in your hearts,” Golding said. “We are still here, we are still present and carrying our traditional ways of being.”

Golding encouraged attendees to walk with prayer ties, or small cloth bundles filled with tobacco, which he said is sacred in many Native communities. People put their prayers and intentions into the ties and carry them on the left side, closest to their hearts. Afterward, Golding said the ties should be placed by trees, so they can “carry that prayer up into the world.” 

The procession continued to The Rock, where MSA graduate assistant and anthropology third-year Ph.D. student Syd Gonzalez read a statement by the Northern Arapho Tribe addressing the massacre. The statement listed a series of demands, including renaming Mt. Evans in Colorado. 

Mandie Greenwood, the administrative assistant for Social Justice Education, followed Gonzalez by reading Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ executive order rescinding the 1864 proclamations Evans issued.

Golding closed out the procession in Parkes Hall with University chaplain the Rev. Kristen Glass Perez, who is enrolled in the Leech Lake Band of the Minnesota Ojibwe. This year was Golding’s fifth time helping to facilitate the event, and he said he was “really pleased” with its turnout. 

Twocrow said she thought the turnout was “amazing.” However, she said the University’s “silence” toward NAISA, particularly during this academic year, has made her feel like it doesn’t care. 

“Being able to remain ignorant to something is such a great privilege,” Twocrow said. “We don’t get to do that. The Cheyenne Arapaho people didn’t get to do that … I think this University has a lot of privilege, and it’s so disheartening to see that they’re not wanting to take action on this.” 

After NAISA painted The Rock to celebrate Native American Heritage Month in 2021, vandals defaced it with anti-Indigenous rhetoric. The alliance released a set of demands to the University in response to the vandalism. One key demand was to establish a fully funded scholarship for Cheyenne and Arapaho descendants to attend NU. 

Twocrow said NAISA met with former University President Morton Schapiro, the provost and the vice president for student affairs for a two-hour meeting about implementing the scholarship. But, she said, the University has not followed up at all this academic year. 

NAISA invited University President Michael Schill to the commemoration, but according to Twocrow, he could not attend because the University’s Board of Trustees is in town. Instead, she said, Schill told the organization he wanted to meet with its members in a couple of weeks. But Twocrow said after reaching out for University availability, Schill did not respond. 

The University did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho people still live with the trauma of the massacre, GoingSnake said, and events like the procession are “powerful” because they acknowledge Indigenous history. She said these spaces are a place where NAISA can educate community members and that the University needs to listen and involve itself in the group’s work. 

“It’s important that they come to our events to know what we’re going through,” GoingSnake said. “As an outsider of what we had to go through, it just feels like they don’t have empathy for us. We’re still living with this.”

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Twitter: @joannah_11

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