Campus & Community

Sand Creek Massacre Symposium explores possibilities for reconciliation

With the 150th anniversary of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre successfully concluded, it’s time to focus on how best to reconcile past injustices.

That was the consensus at the May 22 Sand Creek Massacre Symposium, hosted on campus by the University of Denver’s Conflict Resolution Institute in partnership with the Center on Rights Development. Free and open to the public, the symposium featured a panel discussion on how the University and the city of Denver can create partnerships with the tribes and Sand Creek descendants.

Symposium participants included representatives of two of the tribes in residence at Sand Creek during the massacre: Joe Big Medicine from the Southern Cheyenne tribe and Gail Ridgely from the Northern Arapaho tribe. Other participants were Methodist Bishop Elaine Stanovsky; Tom Wolfe, president of the Iliff School of Theology; Ernest House Jr., executive secretary for the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs; and DU Chancellor Rebecca Chopp. The University of Denver has taken a leadership role in exploring questions about the long-lasting ramifications of the massacre in part because its founder, John Evans, a prominent Methodist, was governor of the Colorado Territory when the massacre occurred.

Tribal members had moments of intense emotion during the discussions, but they also expressed gratitude for the panel’s acknowledgement of the massacre. Chopp and others talked about the importance of process in an institutional response and the lessons institutions can learn from one another in responding to difficult and intense matters.

“It’s a journey of remembering; we will never and should never finish,” Chopp said. “It’s important to have these discussions because the University sits on native land, and memories arise through the land itself. As an educational institution, our role is to teach people to understand their history and their role in history.”

Stanovsky and Wolfe echoed Chopp’s sentiments.

“I think we find ourselves in an uncomfortable place and we think we need to protect the institution, but the only way to protect the institution is being open to learning,” Wolfe said. “This is a powerful moment; the relationships that have emerged help us move forward.”

Ridgely said the descendants of massacre victims are still healing, but that there is a “deep appreciation” for the work being done by the city, the University and the Methodist Church to help tell the story of the Sand Creek Massacre.

In an effort to promote continuous dialogue and healing, Chopp and Provost Gregg Kvistad announced in April that they have appointed a task force that will address Native American inclusivity at the University of Denver. The task force will address three questions:

  1. How can we support native students enrolled at the University of Denver?
  2. What are the ways in which we might fulfill our mission to serve the public good relative to native communities?
  3. How might we expand our education efforts to encourage students to make ethical decisions, to respect those who are different from them, to remember the past, and to shape a future in which healing is experienced and where atrocities do not recur in this land or elsewhere?

Chopp and Kvistad encourage members of the DU community to participate in future discussions and to continue to honor the legacy of those who were killed by working earnestly to understand the history of the massacre and its impact, and to commit themselves — individually and collectively — to creating a more just and inclusive community and society.


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