Though November seemed to have passed uneventfully this year, the month that we generally associate with Thanksgiving has much more meaning than that. During this time, people across the country are celebrating Native American heritage Month- an important time to remember the past and celebrate the present.
The tradition of recognizing Native heritage during November has been around since 1916, though it has developed and changed much since then. New York was the first state to declare an ‘American Indian Day,’ in an attempt to recognize the people that had occupied the land centuries before European colonizers. Later, in 1990, Congress and President Bush designated the whole month of November as ‘National American Indian Heritage Month.’
Phoenix wall & family dance at pow-wows
Fort Collins’ Native history is one that is not often taught. Rife with both culture and conflict, the events that took place here should be remembered with grief and celebration.
Fort Collins was home to Native tribes thousands of years before European colonizers made it to America. The Arapaho, Ute, Comanche tribes were just a few that occupied the land. The idea that Fort Collins was a military camp before anything is not only false, but harmful to the preservation of Native history.
Camp Collins was established in 1862. In the decades prior, the appearingly peaceful interactions between traveling Europeans and Natives were becoming more and more fraught. White settlers who believed they had a right to the land were moving further west, conflicting with indigenous peoples on the way.
In 1851, the Fort Laramie Treaty was signed, designating the areas that natives had control over. Ten years later, the Treaty of Fort Wise was signed, practically cutting that area in half.
These are key events that led up to the Sand Creek Massacre.
On November 29th, 1864, Col. John Chivington and close to 700 volunteers attacked members of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe who were camping along Sand Creek.
Natives had been told they were welcome to camp there, and provided they weren’t hostile, they would be protected. A more detailed account of the attack can be found here, in a letter from Captain Silas Soule.
Little is taught about these events now. Though recognition of indigenous peoples is present in Fort Collins, much of the community is unaware. Though these events seem to lay far in the past, indigenous communities in Fort Collins are still alive and thriving.
“It’s important to know that we’re continuing to live and represent our culture in a way that’s healthy and appropriate. To let people know that we’re still alive and we’re still around, and that who we are is just as important as anyone else,” said Phoenix Wall, Poudre student and member of the community. “Who we are culturally and what we do is a big part of our lives.”
Colorado State University has many resources for learning about indigenous culture and history, Wall said, but outside of those who attend, awareness is not big in our community. Spreading knowledge, resources, and seeking information is key to honoring the past- and being able to appreciate the present.
“We are a people who like respect and we respect each other. We know that we can be seen as strange or just different. But we embrace that culture, and you know, we’re still human.”
“Celebrating National Native American Heritage Month.” Senate.gov, https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/American_Indian_Heritage_Month.htm. Accessed 14 December 2022.
Cohn, Austria. “A brief history of Indigenous peoples in Northern Colorado.” The Rocky Mountain Collegian, https://collegian.com/articles/news/2021/12/a-brief-history-of-indigenous-peoples-in-northern-colorado/. Accessed 16 December 2022.
“Fort Collins history: A look at area's early Native American life.” The Coloradoan, 17 March 2022, https://www.coloradoan.com/story/news/history/2022/03/17/fort-collins-history-northern-colorado-areas-early-native-american-life/9337492002/. Accessed 14 December 2022.
“Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 (Horse Creek Treaty) (U.S.” National Park Service, 10 September 2022, https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/horse-creek-treaty.htm. Accessed 20 December 2022.
“History & Culture - Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (U.S.” National Park Service, 29 August 2022, https://www.nps.gov/sand/learn/historyculture/index.htm. Accessed 14 December 2022.