Carol McKinley, Colorado Politics, November 21, 2020
After years of back and forth, the statue of a grieving American Indian mother will have a home in a prime location on the west steps of the Colorado State Capitol.
The State Appropriations Building Committee voted 7-2 on Friday to replace the Civil War soldier statue, which was toppled this summer during the George Floyd protests, with the Sand Creek Memorial.
The Civil War soldier, still sporting graffiti and scrapes from its fall, now sits in a temporary spot in the lobby of History Colorado.
The location of the statue has been at the center of five years of negotiations. Tribal leaders wanted the memorial placed on the west steps, where the massacre could be acknowledged by tourists and Coloradans who visit. But the state would not move the Civil War soldier to accommodate their wishes.
The Sand Creek Massacre is one of the most controversial chapters in Colorado’s history.
Two hundred and thirty Cheyenne and Arapahoe, mostly women, elderly and children, were slaughtered on Nov. 29, 1864, when volunteers from the First and Third Colorado Cavalry regiments ambushed them at sun-up. The 700 Cheyenne and Arapaho who gathered there had been promised a peaceful existence by the government. After the attack, the Army soldiers burned the camp and took trophies from the bodies, which they displayed in a parade through Denver, where they were initially hailed as conquerors.
The massacre poisoned relationships and was a catalyst for wars between the U.S. Army and Native Americans for years.
“It’s important that the monument is placed in a location that’s prominent,” Ryan Ortiz of the Northern Arapaho, on the phone from Wyoming, told the committee. “Our people still live with generational trauma.”
Democratic Rep. Susan Lontine of Denver, who chairs the building committee, said the toppling of the Civil War statue in June “was a sign that we needed to take this up again and formalize our location and offer that spot to the tribes.”
Board member and former State Historic Preservation Officer Georgianna Contiguglia said that it might not be appropriate to have such a horrific reminder front and center at one of the state’s most popular landmarks.
“For people who are visiting Denver for the first time, I’m not sure that the message that Colorado wants to give is that our primary important event is a massacre,” she said.
The decision to replace a generic Civil War statue with an acknowledgment of the massacre took just an hour and a half. But for the tribes whose ancestors experienced Sand Creek, it’s been 136 years.
“Even though it was a tragedy, we still are a proud people,” Northern Cheyenne representative Benjamin Ridgley said from his home in Wyoming.
“We are survivors.”