Attention, Native Americans! It has gotten a little safer for you to visit Colorado.
You can thank Colorado Gov. Jared Polis for that.
Polis rescinded a proclamation that has been on the books since the 19th century. The 1864 proclamation urged residents of Colorado Territory to kill Native Americans and take their property!
Polis hopes his action can begin to make amends for “sins of the past.” It’s a big step in mending Colorado’s historic rocky relationship with its tribes.
The 1864 order by Colorado’s second territorial governor, John Evans, was never lawful, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t followed.
Evans governed the territory of Colorado during three years of the Civil War, from 1862 to 1865. One of Evans’ orders deemed Native Americans “enemies of the state,” and the second called for Colorado citizens to kill and steal from them.
Using Evans’ order as justification Col. John Chivington, an ordained minister, gathered a force of volunteers and led them in an attack on a peaceful Cheyenne village.
Chivington’s men attacked Chief Black Kettle’s village at Sand Creek on Nov. 29, 1864. The dawn attack killed more than 200 of the Cheyenne and Arapaho – mostly women, children and the elderly.
He and his soldiers then headed to Denver, where they displayed scalps and other portions of the victims’ remains.
At first Chivington was regarded as a hero, but as word spread of the atrocities he and his men had committed, he was soon disparaged. He resigned from the military and eventually left the Colorado Territory under a cloud of shame.
Evans’ proclamation was never lawful because it established treaty rights and federal Indian law, Polis said at the signing of his executive order on Aug. 17.
“It also directly contradicted the Colorado Constitution, the United States Constitution and Colorado criminal codes at the time,” Polis said.
Polis stood alongside citizens of the Southern Ute, Ute Mountain, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, many dressed in traditional regalia. Some held signs reading, “Recognize Indigenous knowledge, people, land” and “Decolonize to survive.”
Ernest House Jr., who served as executive director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs under former Gov. John Hickenlooper, said Polis’ order is important to the state’s government-to-government relations with tribes, the acknowledgment of history, and a movement toward reconciliation.
”I think there’s often times the general community think of American Indians as the vanishing race, the vanishing people. And I think it starts with things like this,” said House, a citizen of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
John Christian Hopkins lives in Sanders, Ariz., with his wife, Sararesa. He is a veteran journalist – but never an enemy of the people – and a former nationally syndicated columnist for Gannett News Service. He is the author of many books, including “Carlomagno: Adventures of the Pirate Prince of the Wampanoag.” He is a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island.