This Saturday, History Colorado opened their exhibition on the Sand Creek Massacre to the public with a ceremony involving members and representatives of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.
The event happened just 10 days before the 158th anniversary of the massacre—in which over 230 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho people were killed in a surprise attack at the hands of the U.S. Army at Sand Creek near Eads.
The exhibition, titled The Sand Creek Massacre: The Betrayal that Changed Cheyenne and Arapaho People Forever, draws heavily on tribal accounts of the event rather than colonial ones and marks a notable deviation of the storytelling of one of Colorado's darkest days.
"We very intentionally shifted that narrative and listened in those ways because for so long this story has been either mythologized or erased really. The number of school kids, the number of Coloradans my age who have never heard of Sand Creek is very common... We're just trying to give them a base of knowledge and continue educating... They were civilized, they weren't savages as the newspapers were portraying at that time," Shannon Voirol, Director of Exhibit Planning at History Colorado, said.
"Colorado has become more open... There was a time when they did not want to hear those stories. They did not want to hear the bad part. The conquering hero was the only side they wanted to hear," Fred Mosqueda, Southern Arapaho Language and Culture Coordinator, added.
The exhibit, which prominently features Cheyenne and Arapaho clothing, artifacts, letters and more atop History Colorado's fourth floor, is the culmination of a nearly decade-long collaboration between History Colorado and their tribal partners.
"They've asked us to bring articles from our homes to put in there as part of the exhibit... My intent was to educate but also to show," Mosqueda added.
"We contacted local artisans and local Cheyenne people who were willing to loan us their personal things and that's really special. Then you get to hear the story of how it was made, which of their grandparents made it for them, those kind of things," Voirol said.
Included in the exhibit are oral recordings from tribal elders and descendants of survivors of the massacre recorded by the National Park Service while working on the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, which was dedicated in 2007.
"We're just so lucky that the NPS and the tribes both agreed that those would be an integral part of our exhibition," Sam Bock, Lead Exhibit Developer for Sand Creek Massacre Exhibit, said.
For Mosqueda, and other tribal members, the use of audio and visual storytelling through the exhibit is deeply special.
"Our history is 90 percent oral history... The use of the videos, the stories, that is super in there... My wife's niece was sitting there, it was so emotional for her to see her mother tell a story because her mother has already passed away. She was brought to tears by this video,'' Mosqueda said.
"We're trying to weave together artifacts, images, words and tell kind of a three dimensional story that's really like a moving sculpture that you're moving through and you can learn in all these different modalities," Voirol said.
Uncovering and shining a light on the wounds left from the massacre was not always an easy task. Mosqueda notes that elders within his Southern Arapaho tribe in Oklahoma shared a deep hesitancy to discuss the event, even with him.
"When we were in the meetings, I would talk to them and tell them everything I was doing and everybody would stay quiet. When I walked off by myself, they would approach me by themselves and then they would tell me," Mosqueda added.
History Colorado faced the same challenge.
"For tribal communities who have been taken advantage of and ignored and been such a target of so many horrible things especially the Sand Creek Massacre, it's a bigger barrier to overcome that initial skepticism. For us we're just really fortunate that the tribes were so passionate about teaching... We really were able to establish a new relationship with all these representatives and establish a baseline of trust," Bock said.
While History Colorado changes exhibits frequently, the public will get ample time to see this one.
"We don't have any permanent exhibitions because we're always learning more about history and wanting to present new stories to the public. But we do have what we call core exhibitions, which are a core part of our educational offerings here... This exhibition is slated to be here for many years and we really hope that it is a place for people to come and continue learning across generations." Bock said.
Some hope that by talking about one of Colorado's darkest moments, some positive dialogue and discussion will come about.
"If we just slow down and listen to each other and realize that horrible things happened then together we can be brave and talk about them and uncover some of those layers of hurt," Voirol noted.