History Colorado Center/flickr
The History Colorado Center in downtown Denver with the bison sculpture titled "On the Wind."

Sand Creek Massacre Exhibit to Close for Tribal Consultation

Carol Berry
4/18/13

A controversial museum exhibit about the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 will be closed to the public as History Colorado consults with tribes whose ancestors were killed by U.S. Army volunteers at a southeastern Colorado encampment where they had been promised safety.

Complaints of inaccuracy in the exhibit, which opened in April 2012, and a failure to consult with the affected tribes had been lodged by the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana with support from the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming. The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma also cited problems with the government-to-government consultation process.

Tribal members asked that the exhibit at the History Colorado Center in downtown Denver be closed until further consultation took place. Underlying some tribal criticism was History Colorado Center’s presentation of the massacre as part of an inevitable and neutral “collision of cultures” rather than as a major atrocity related to invasion and attempted annihilation. (Related story: Lack of Tribal Consultation Leads to Conflict at a Denver Museum.)

“To underscore our sincerity in wishing to engage in meaningful consultation, History Colorado will close the exhibit to the public during consultation and while any agreed-upon changes resulting from the consultation are made to the exhibit,” said Edward C. Nichols, president and CEO of History Colorado in a letter to John Robinson, president of the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council.

As soon as a facilitator is located and accepted by museum and tribal officials, possible dates for the consultation could be established, Nichols said. Ernest House Jr., executive director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, has been asked to recommend a facilitator and to send the name to the tribes for their consideration.

In the future, History Colorado will appoint a representative to work with the Cheyenne and Arapaho people “to ensure future collaboration is conducted with mutual respect, is characterized by the free exchange of ideas, and aspires to present interpretation that is accurate, meaningful and effective,” Nichols said.

Steve Brady, co-chair of the Northern Cheyenne Sand Creek Massacre Committee and chair of the Northern Cheyenne Cultural Commission, said before the state’s announcement of the exhibit’s temporary closure that he would welcome having it taken down while problems were ironed out.

Because the exhibit was developed without the necessary tribal consultation, “the general public [might] view that as gospel” when it’s not, Brady said.

Nichols concluded his letter sent April 12 to the Northern Cheyenne president with the hope that consultation would help to re-establish a better relationship with the affected tribes “and will result in an exhibit that reflects the profound importance of Sand Creek to all people.”

The exhibit will remain open until Nichols receives a response to his letter about consultions. Robinson was not immediately available for comment on any plans for consultation as outlined in the letter.

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