DENVER – Months after protesters tore down a statue of a U.S. soldier who took part in the slaughter of Native Americans, tribal members and descendants of those who survived the Civil War-era attack urged Colorado lawmakers on Thursday to replace it with the likeness of an Indigenous woman at the state Capitol.
The new statue would replace the one depicting a Union Army soldier who helped carry out the Sand Creek Massacre of 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho people in 1864, one of the worst mass murders in U.S. history. It was toppled over the summer amid the national reckoning over racial injustice and the movement to remove symbols from public spaces that are tied to military atrocities against people of color, typically the Confederacy.
The proposed new bronze statue would depict a young woman sitting on a white flag, wearing a native Cheyenne dress, with her left arm extended. She has cut off her braids and the joint of a finger on her left hand in signs of mourning.
Ryan Ortiz of the Northern Arapaho Tribe testified virtually in favor of the new statue for the Capital Development Committee. He said the massacre is the origin of historical trauma for the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes and that the statue would be a chance to right previous wrongs.
“It’s not very often in history do we have a chance to atone for our ancestors’ mistakes,” Ortiz said.
Otto Braided Hair, a Northern Cheyenne tribal member and descendent of a Sand Creek survivor, has worked on education surrounding the massacre for the last 20 years. He shared details passed down by his great-grandfather.
“He was part of a recovery crew to go down and look for survivors and couldn’t get near the village because the whole valley permeated with burnt bodies,” Braided Hair said. “And so that’s what the soldiers did and the soldier represents for us.”
On November 29, 1864, Col. John Chivington led around 700 U.S. volunteer soldiers to a village of nearly 500 people camped along the banks of Big Sandy Creek. Chivington ordered his men to attack and kill mostly women, children and elderly at the camp. The village had believed they were under the protection of the U.S. Army, and people even approached the unit with white flags.