Here’s how these Colorado students learn about the state’s deadliest day

“I’m so upset with historical past,” stated Mariah Vigil-Gonzales, a 17-year-old junior at Kiowa Excessive Faculty. “I want we had a time machine.”

Different college students shortly chimed in, imagining how they might change the occasions of that long-ago November day. A lady stated, “Expose Chivington,” referring to the colonel who led the assault.

A lot in regards to the classroom scene was uncommon. Few Colorado college students study a lot in regards to the Sand Creek Bloodbath — the deadliest day in Colorado historical past — and even fewer spend a number of days learning the subject as part of a Native American history class as Malerich’s college students did.

A man and a little girl in a pink dress walk through a museum exhibit
Guests on the opening of the Sand Creek Bloodbath exhibit on the Historical past Colorado museum in Denver. | Carl Glenn Payne II for Chalkbeat

The brand new course is well timed, coming as efforts to commemorate and elevate the Sand Creek Bloodbath are gaining steam throughout the state. Colorado’s historical past museum in Denver unveiled an exhibit on the massacre this month, and earlier this fall, federal officers introduced a significant growth of the national historic site marking the massacre — a few two-hour drive from Kiowa. As well as, new social studies standards embrace the Sand Creek Bloodbath on a listing of genocides that Colorado college students ought to research earlier than commencement.

The Sand Creek Bloodbath occurred on Nov. 29, 1864, when U.S. troops attacked a camp of Native Individuals who’d been assured by territorial officers that they’d be protected at that website. Many Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs who’d sought peace with the U.S. authorities have been among the many murdered, upending the tribal energy construction and fueling many years of struggle within the West.

“It’s a narrative that must be instructed. It’s a narrative that must be revered,” stated Gail Ridgely, a Northern Arapaho tribal elder who lives on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

Ridgely, who’s the great-great-grandson of Little Raven, a peace chief who survived the bloodbath, stated the episode contributed to the displacement of the Cheyenne and Arapaho from their homeland in Colorado.

“After the bloodbath, we have been hunted,” he stated.

It was solely final yr that the state formally rescinded the 1864 proclamation that allowed settlers to “kill and destroy” Native Individuals and steal their property.

Malerich believes there’s numerous good issues to spotlight in American historical past, however that it’s essential to show about shameful episodes just like the Sand Creek Bloodbath, too.

“What can we study from that?” she stated. “We will’t return and save these peoples’ lives or something, however what kind of methods can we type of atone for that?”

Mascot regulation begets new class

Malerich’s Native American historical past class exists largely due to a 2021 state law banning Native American mascots in Colorado colleges — a measure lawmakers noticed as a step towards “justice and therapeutic to the descendants of the survivors of the Sand Creek Bloodbath, most notably the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.”

A museum panel describing how many Native American chiefs died in the Sand Creek Massacre.
A panel on the new Sand Creek Bloodbath exhibit on the Historical past Colorado museum in Denver. | Ann Schimke/Chalkbeat

Following the regulation’s passage, the 318-student Kiowa district, which is crisscrossed by streets with names like Ute Avenue and Comanche Road, sought to retain its Indians nickname. Leaders there requested the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma to approve continued use of the title and mascot, a state of affairs allowed below the regulation. The tribe agreed to the request, updating a 2005 settlement, so long as the district met sure situations, together with offering “a curriculum that teaches American Indian Historical past.”

Strasburg High School, which additionally makes use of the Indians nickname, and Arapahoe Excessive Faculty in Centennial, which makes use of the Warriors nickname, have comparable agreements with the Northern Arapaho tribe.

The settlement to maintain the mascot was “a big win for our neighborhood,” stated Kiowa district Superintendent Travis Hargreaves. “Academics are coming with an increasing number of concepts of how we are able to honor that.”

A type of concepts was the brand new semester-long historical past course, which will likely be a commencement requirement for district college students beginning with the category of 2025. Malerich stated she was excited to launch the category this fall, but in addition nervous as a result of she needed to do it justice and couldn’t discover many sources designed for highschool college students.

College students began out by studying in regards to the many tribes which have referred to as Colorado dwelling over the centuries, making maps outlining the place every lived. Additionally they mentioned the tradition and traditions of these tribes, and extra broadly, the affect of Native Individuals throughout colonial occasions and past.

A teenage students gestures as she talks with the teacher during a class discussion.
Brooke Mills, left, a junior at Kiowa Excessive Faculty, talks with instructor Sarah Malerich and classmates throughout an October lesson on the Sand Creek Bloodbath. | Ann Schimke/Chalkbeat

“It’s actually cool to consider the roots of the land,” stated ninth grader Alyssa Edwards, “like, what was right here earlier than.”

A number of of the 11 college students in Malerich’s class — a typical class dimension on the rural highschool — signed up for the brand new course as a result of they needed to, not as a result of they needed to.

Mariah, who began at Kiowa Excessive this yr, stated her household is Apache, and she or he needed to study extra Native American historical past. “There’s simply a variety of Indians that got here via Colorado and so it’s like, a variety of this originated right here … and nobody ever actually talks about that.”

Who learns in regards to the Sand Creek Bloodbath?

It’s not clear what number of Colorado college students study in regards to the Sand Creek Bloodbath at college — both throughout their Colorado historical past unit in fourth grade or another time.

Representatives from the Colorado Council of Social Research and the Historical past Colorado museum in Denver, the place the brand new Sand Creek exhibit opened earlier this month, each guessed the numbers are comparatively small.

Hargreaves, who was a fourth grade instructor within the Cherry Creek district, stated the textbook he used on the time included a few half web page on the Sand Creek Bloodbath.

“It was a few day devoted to it,” he stated.

Malerich, who teaches in the identical Kiowa Excessive Faculty historical past classroom the place she as soon as sat as a pupil, stated her first distinct recollections of studying in regards to the bloodbath weren’t from faculty however from the TNT miniseries, “Into the West,” which she watched earlier than sixth grade.

Some college students in Malerich’s Native American historical past class stated they’d discovered a bit of in regards to the Sand Creek Bloodbath in different courses. Others by no means had.

Josie Chang-Order, faculty applications supervisor at Historical past Colorado, stated there aren’t any kids’s books in regards to the bloodbath and few supplies designed for older college students both.

“Academics coming to Indigenous historical past after we ourselves didn’t get very a lot of it in colleges is a large problem,” she stated.

She and different museum workers hope the brand new exhibit will assist flip the tide. They’re creating particular classes for fourth- to 12-graders who take area journeys to the exhibit and an internet checklist of Sand Creek Bloodbath sources for educators.

Two white teepees sit net to a stage during a public event marking the opening of a new exhibit.
The opening day of the Sand Creek Bloodbath exhibit on the Historical past Colorado museum in Denver. | Carl Glenn Payne II for Chalkbeat

Elishama Goldfarb, whose class at Denver’s Lincoln Elementary contains fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders, covers the Sand Creek Bloodbath a minimum of each three years, interspersing main supply accounts of the bloodbath with excerpts from a miniseries on Colorado historical past referred to as “Centennial.”

He desires college students to grasp the bloodbath throughout the context of ongoing battle, damaged treaties, and distrust between Native Individuals and white settlers who needed gold, land, or different sources.

Goldfarb, who plans to take his college students to the brand new Sand Creek exhibit in January, additionally connects the bias that fueled the bloodbath to the human temptation to guage individuals or deem sure individuals superior to others.

He desires to assist college students perceive that “after we see one another as worthy of dignity and love and care,” horrific occasions just like the Sand Creek Bloodbath don’t need to occur.

Historical past Colorado had a Sand Creek Bloodbath exhibit as soon as earlier than. It closed a decade in the past after strain from tribal leaders, who didn’t really feel it precisely mirrored their historical past.

“It was a fairytale, Barbie dolls, misprints,” Ridgely stated.

However the brand new Sand Creek Exhibit — subtitled “The betrayal that modified Cheyenne and Arapaho individuals perpetually” — has been achieved proper, he stated, with tribal leaders consulted extensively on the small print.

“It’s a historic milestone for Colorado and it’s sacred,” he stated. “Each time I’m going right down to the museum, it’s an actual good feeling as a result of the victims are talking.”

The exhibit begins years earlier than the bloodbath, grounding guests within the tribes’ tradition and lifestyle. Moreover maps, timelines, and larger-than-life photographs, the exhibit options oral histories from tribe members telling the tales of Sand Creek which have been handed down over generations. The exhibit incorporates Cheyenne and Arapaho language all through.

Shannon Voirol, director of exhibit planning at Historical past Colorado, believes the brand new exhibit will assist make the Sand Creek Bloodbath a part of the state’s lexicon in the identical manner the museum’s Amache exhibit raised consciousness in regards to the southern Colorado camp the place Japanese-Individuals have been imprisoned throughout World Struggle II.

“Extra individuals now perceive that we had Japanese internment camps in Colorado. We get an increasing number of lecturers asking about it. We get extra college students having some data of it. It’s a part of the canon as it will turn into,” she stated, gesturing to the photographs and artifacts, within the Sand Creek exhibit.

Ridgely, certainly one of a number of tribe members who labored with museum officers on the exhibit thinks college students will turn into extra humble and respectful — “higher residents” —  by studying in regards to the Sand Creek Bloodbath.

In October, Malerich started a sequence of classes on the Sand Creek Bloodbath by discussing the historical past of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes — their traditions, language, and tradition. In the course of the third lesson, she and her college students learn 5 accounts of the bloodbath, together with from Col. John Chivington; Silas Soule, a military captain who refused to fireplace on the Native Individuals; and a survivor named Singing Below Water, whose oral account was written down by her grandson.

Malerich learn aloud from Chivington’s 1865 testimony to Congress, which falsely portrayed the bloodbath as a battle the place just a few ladies and no kids have been killed.

“I had no cause to consider that [Chief] Black Kettle and the Indians with him have been in good religion at peace with the whites,” she learn.

However college students have been skeptical and indignant.

“Actually, [they] had the white flag up and the American flag up,” Mariah stated of the tribes.

She and her classmates concluded that Chivington knew the Arapaho and Cheyenne have been camped peacefully however didn’t care. Different firsthand accounts didn’t assist his claims, they stated.

After the lesson, Alyssa stated figuring out how and why the bloodbath occurred would possibly assist stop one thing comparable from taking place once more.

“That was actually inspirational,” responded Brooke Mills, a junior whose mom is partly descended from the Blackfoot tribe. “Just like the saying that, when you don’t know your historical past, you’re doomed to repeat it. I really feel like that’s an enormous a part of all of this, too.”

Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat, masking early childhood points and early literacy. Contact Ann at [email protected]


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