Colorado governor rescinds 1864 policy that led to massacre of Native Americans

Colorado governor rescinds 1864 policy that led to massacre of Native Americans
© Greg Nash

Colorado Gov. Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisColorado Gov. Jared Polis makes history marrying long-time partner Marlon Reis Biden expresses confidence on climate in renewable energy visit Obamas, Bushes and Clintons joining new effort to help Afghan refugees MORE (D) signed an executive order this week to repeal a 157-year-old order that sought to eliminate Indigenous people from the Colorado territory.

The original orders were issued by Territorial Governor John Evans in 1864 and forced Indigenous families into certain camps while calling for Coloradans to "kill and destroy" those deemed to be "hostile Indians" in exchange for money and stolen property.

Less than a year after the proclamations were issued, more than 600 U.S. volunteer soldiers attacked a village of more than 700 Cheyenne and Arapaho people in what is known as the Sand Creek Massacre. It is widely regarded as one of the worst mass murders in American history.

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Evans ultimately resigned due to the massacre. His orders were largely believed to have sparked the mass killing.

“We can't change the past, but we can honor the memories of those we lost by recognizing their sacrifice and to do better,” Polis said at the order signing ceremony on Tuesday, Colorado Public Radio reported.

“I'm sad about the people that lost their lives because of this, but I'm also glad that it's over with and we're going to start healing. The healing process starts by the government being more responsible to us for what they did," he added.

CPR reported that more than 100 people affiliated with Indigenous tribes gathered at the ceremony to celebrate the repeal.

“They become more knowledgeable and with that, they want to correct some of the wrongs that have happened, although you can't change time or history,” said Reggie Wassana, governor of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. “You can only try to make amends for it.”

“The 1864 Proclamations were never lawful because they violated established treaty rights and federal Indian law. Further, when Colorado became a state, they never became law, as they were superseded by the Colorado Constitution, United States Constitution, and Colorado criminal code," Polis's executive order states. "Yet, the 1864 Proclamations have never been officially rescinded. They therefore remain as a symbol of a gross abuse of executive power during that grave period in our State’s history."

“For these reasons, I find it necessary to officially finally rescind the shameful 1864 Proclamations through this Executive Order and provide closure for this dark period of our territorial history," the order stated.