Story at a glance

  • Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is running for Senate in the Democratic primary.
  • A photograph of Hickenlooper in a Native war bonnet shows him participating in a hunting event that plays off of indigenous culture.
  • In an open letter, a group of Indigenous women and activists are demanding he drop out of the race.

In 2018, then-Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was one of three winners of the "One Shot Antelope Hunt," a competition to harvest a pronghorn with a single shot that plays off of Native American stereotypes.

"Gov. Hickenlooper displayed an unacceptable lack of judgement in choosing to participate in this event, while disrespecting Indigenous women and appropriating traditional dress of Native peoples," says an open letter published by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez on Medium

The letter, co-signed by a number of Native American leaders and organizations, demands that Hickenlooper withdraw from the state's Senate race, where he is currently seeking the Democratic nomination against former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. Hickenlooper received an influx of financial support from Democratic allies in recent weeks after Republicans doubled down on ethics charges against him.  

“We ask that he withdraw from the race and that he does the work to educate himself on the legacy of violence and discrimination towards Indigenous women, so that repair and reconciliation might follow," the letter says, citing not only his participation in the event but a number of recent controversies.


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In response to a recent question on the campaign trail about the Black Lives Matter movement, Hickenlooper reportedly responded that “every life matters.” The letter also cites an incident while he was serving as governor when he compared his schedule to being abducted and whipped on an “ancient slave ship,” as well as a video of Hickenlooper describing his cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the detention of immigrants. 

 

“These actions are not missteps. They are not one-time, isolated incidents. Instead, they are part of a disturbing pattern of ignorant and harmful behavior spanning over a decade. These racial and social justice problems are compounded by Gov. Hickenlooper’s unwavering support for fracking, and the environmental racism his Administration engaged in during his tenure as governor," the letter says.

A spokesperson for Hickenlooper said he “stood shoulder to shoulder with Colorado’s Native Americans” as governor, citing his official apology for the Sand Creek Massacre and an executive order to study the use of Native American mascots at schools.

In a statement, Joe Kenney, liaison between the One Shot Club and the Shoshone Tribe, defended the photograph and the event. 

“Those who are misrepresenting this photo for political purposes are wrong. The headdress was placed on the governor’s head by Hunt Chief Shoyo as part of the event the Shoshone have long enjoyed celebrating,” Kenney said. Describing the event, he added, “The Legend of the Hunt closely ties the One Shot with the Shoshones and the legend states that the hunters who return with Antelope meat are honored by getting to dance with the Braves and have the high honor of getting to wear a Shoshone Eagle-feather headdress during the Victory banquet and dancing the Victory Dance with the Chief and Medicine Man. Hunters who fail to bring back meat get to dance with the ladies of the tribe who take great pleasure in dressing the hunters in traditional Native shawls and scarves.” 


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As for the photograph, Hickenlooper is shown wearing a Native war bonnet along with two other winners on his team and two other Indigenous men. Each hunter is given an “Indian Name,” according to the event page, a “sacred Indian Medicine Bag” and a bullet “blessed for the hunt.” The event, which was conceived by two white men in 1939, begins with an “Indian Ceremony” during which hunters are “made blood brothers of the Shoshone Indian Tribe.” 

While the petition says the headdress is an imitation, a spokesperson for Hickenlooper said it is authentic. The Hill has reached out to the Eastern Shoshone Tribe for comment.

Hunt Chief Shoyo, who put the headdress on Hickenlooper's head as part of a ceremony, said in a statement, “The Shoshone tribe has been an important part of the One Shot since the very beginning in the 1940’s. Our people have enjoyed a warm and friendly relationship with the One Shot and we have a lot of fun poking fun at the hunters by giving them official Shoshone Indian names and having the celebration after the hunt where we honor the successful hunters.“

There are more than 12,000 Shoshone Indians in the United States today, with members in multiple federally recognized tribes. In Wyoming, where the One Shot Antelope Hunt is held, many of the Eastern Shoshone people live on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Members of the Shoshone tribe have been involved in the event since the 1940s. 

Losers of the event are called “squaw,” claim the letter’s authors, a misogynistic, ethnic slur for women that is associated with sexual assault and violence against Indigenous women. Currently, the Native American community is facing an epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women that has affected thousands.

"We all must move forward together by rejecting this type of behavior, and by supporting Indigenous women during the chronic epidemic of violence they continue to experience, as we work to bring about a new era of respect and understanding," the letter says.

Published on Jun 29, 2020