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Remembering 1864: From Fort Chambers to Sand Creek

 The National Park Service has purchased an additional 3,478 acres of land to expand the Sand Creek Massacre historic site in Kiowa County in southeastern Colorado.
The National Park Service has purchased an additional 3,478 acres of land to expand the Sand Creek Massacre historic site in Kiowa County in southeastern Colorado.

A public memorial and reflection takes place Sunday, October 9, in Boulder to explore the truth of Boulder’s role in The Sand Creek Massacre.

The event comes days after the announcement of a significant expansion of the national historic site that commemorates the massacre.

Federal officials announced the acquisition of nearly 3,500 acres of land to expand the National Park Services Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in Kiowa County in southeastern Colorado.

"The significance of it is that we can encompass all the area around the the site, and it also gives the Park Service a chance to provide a better facility for the public to go and see where this event took place," said Fred Mosqueda, an Arapaho elder from Oklahoma, who has been working as a tribal representative in public education efforts and in talks with officials.

Mosqueda was at a ceremony at the Sand Creek Massacre site on Wednesday October 5, and is part of a group Remembering 1864: From Fort Chambers to Sand Creek, the Future is NOW, an oral history project of singing, storytelling, and dialogue being performed at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder on October 9.

The project connects the dots between the massacre at Sand Creek and the Fort Chambers garrison in present day Boulder County, where US troops trained for the attack.

"We do this so people can know our history. What happened at Fort Chambers? Why is it important? What happened? You know, what's the trail? What was all going on in Colorado? Why were we there instead of in Cherry Creek where we started out?" said Mosqueda.

The Sand Creek Massacre was a turning point in relations between this area's Native inhabitants and the white settlers that had been illegally establishing homesteads in lands protected by signed treaties.

The discovery of gold in Colorado created an additional financial incentive for land grabs through violent displacement campaigns.

US Army troops who were trained at Fort Chambers, attacked what was supposed to be a protected encampment of around 750 Cheyenne and Arapaho people.

Of the 230 people killed on November 29, 1864, more than half were women, children, and elders.

Mosqueda says the oral histories that have been passed down also have the power to heal.

"And I think in telling and educating our younger ones to what happened, and to show them where we're at today, tends to heal. You know, when you go to Sand Creek, you're gonna feel this feeling of dread almost, like that's what I always feel, like I'm really sad there. But you know, it doesn't change for me. But maybe for the younger ones coming after me, maybe they'll be able to see it as the triumph between tribes and the United States government and that they're understanding finally our people, and that yes, we are people, yes, we can do things to help tell this story. And in doing so, we become better, you know, along with everybody else," said Mosqueda.

And it's not just the descendants of victims and survivors who stand to benefit from greater knowledge of this area's history.

Marion Murphy works with local farmers and sustainable agriculture initiatives in Boulder, and is a member of the Remembrance Planning Circle which organized the Remembering 1864 event.

"This is an opportunity for me to heal myself personally. So that is what drew me in. Now that I am learning more about it, of course I see many ways in which I can continue to contribute," said Murphy.

"We have put together this event (to) really allow people to emotionally absorb what has happened here and also really to think about our future because that is where we're headed, the future, which should be much more community inclusive opportunities for everyone," she said.

Tess Eckert, also a member of the Remembrance Planning Circle, was born and raised in Boulder, but says she did not grow up learning the history of the area's original inhabitants.

"I think for me the urgency for everyone, whether they're indigenous or not, or interested in indigenous history and rights or not, is really that it has to do with the bigger story of our humanity and also the crisis that we're facing on the earth right now," said Eckert.

Some say that a step towards righting the wrongs of the past must involve the return of stolen land.

The Sand Creek Massacre Historical Site opened in 2007 on land privately purchased by Jewish casino owner Jim Druck who drew parallels between the genocide of the Holocaust in Europe and the mass murder and displacement of indigenous people within the present day United States.

Druck deeded the land to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, which created a trust with the National Park Service.

In Boulder, the open space around the Fort Chambers site is also a topic of discussion for land back.

Some area cities have either signed or are exploring sister city arrangements with the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.

Last year, the city of Longmont signed a sister city agreement with the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming.

Authorities in Broomfield have also started similar discussions.

Arapahoe Elder Fred Mosqueda says the tribes want to be partners with the state of Colorado and these cities, and that active partnerships and the return of land is what he'd like to see more of in the future.

"I would love it if the Cheyenne and Arapaho (tribes) were able to somehow work with the cities to become partners somehow. Either be an economic development or politically or some way to become partners with these cities in Colorado so that we could have a place to go back to, you know, that would help support our people," said Mosqueda.

This story from KGNU was shared via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations including KDNK in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.

Young is a longtime independent journalist, with a vast history in editorial and production leadership. She has been working in Mexico as a foreign correspondent and regularly contributed to PRX’s “The World,” Public Radio International, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), The Guardian, Vice News, Truthout, and the Texas Observer.