Two Universities Grapple with their Sand Creek Legacy … and This Day in History: The Indian “New Deal”

Universities Acknowledge their Founder’s Role in Sand Creek Massacre

It is important to note when institutions step forward to acknowledge their ties to historic injustices. Such is the recent case with Northwestern University and the University of Denver. An article published first in YES! Magazine and then posted by Common Dreams website, tells how these two universities were linked to the Sank Creek Massacre and how they have responded.

First, the background. On Nov. 29, 1874, a force of American cavalry officers and settler militia mounted an attack against a peaceful encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians in southeastern Colorado. At least 163 were killed, others were raped and mutilated in the massacre.

According to the article, John Evans, Colorado’s territorial governor, had ordered the recruitment of the voluntary militia, “and had fanned the flames of racial hatred in the region beforehand.” Evans had previously founded Northwestern University in Chicago, and he went on to found the University of Denver.  On the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, students and community members at both universities brought pressure on the administrations to examine the role their founder played in this atrocity.

In response to the protests, administrators on both campuses established review committees that exposed the deep moral culpability of Evans’ actions. While he was out of the state at the time of the massacre, Evans had both authorized and encouraged settlers to “kill and destroy” Plains Indian communities …

As part of the response,  each university committed to increase recruitment, retention, and advancement of Native students and faculty.”

For more on this story, click on the link above.

This Day in History, June 18, 1934, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act, a major reversal of the traditional U.S. policy goal of assimilating Indians into American society, aiming instead “to strengthen, encourage and perpetuate the tribes and their historic traditions and culture,” according to the Wikipedia summary. It was the centerpiece of what was called the “Indian New Deal.”  Among its provisions, it stopped the federal policy of allotting Indian lands for private ownership. The push for the legislation came from John Collier, Bureau of Indian Affairs Commissioner from 1933-1945. According to Wikipedia:

[Collier]  intended to reverse assimilationist policies and provide ways for American Indians to re-establish sovereignty and self-government, to reduce the losses of reservation lands, and establish ways for Indians to build economic self-sufficiency. He saw Indian traditional culture as superior to that of modern America, and thought it worthy of emulation.

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