Colorado's 1864 Order to Kill Native Americans Voided

Gov. Jared Polis rescinded the awful proclamation Tuesday
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 19, 2021 12:06 AM CDT
Colorado's 1864 Order to Kill Native Americans Voided
Eugene Blackbear Jr. prays before various American Indian tribe leaders speak and Gov. Jared Polis signs an executive order that rescinds proclamations from Colorado Territorial Governor John Evans in 1864, at the Capitol in Denver, Colo. on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021.   (Rebecca Slezak/The Denver Post via AP)

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday rescinded a 19th-century proclamation that called for citizens to kill Native Americans and take their property, in what he hopes can begin to make amends for "sins of the past." The 1864 order by Colorado’s second territorial governor, John Evans, would eventually lead to the Sand Creek massacre, one of Colorado's darkest and most fraught historic moments. The brutal assault left more than 200 Arapaho and Cheyenne people—mostly women, children and elderly—dead. Col. John Chivington led the Nov. 29, 1864, slaughter. He and his soldiers then headed to Denver, where they displayed some of the victims’ remains.

Evans' proclamation was never lawful because it established treaty rights and federal Indian law, Polis said at the signing of his executive order on the Capitol steps. “It also directly contradicted the Colorado Constitution, the United States Constitution, and Colorado criminal codes at the time," the Democratic governor said to whoops from the crowd, per the AP. 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 oftentimes 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. "It gives us a place that we were important and that our lives were important.”

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Polis also created an advisory board to recommend name changes for the highest peak in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, known as “Mount Evans.” Discussions are taking place within the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs to choose “more culturally sensitive names,” said Alston Turtle, a councilman with the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. Evans governed the territory of Colorado during three years of the Civil War, from 1862 to 1865. He resigned after the Sand Creek massacre happened under his order.

(More Colorado stories.)

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