Campus & Community

DU powwow commemorates Sand Creek Massacre

The fourth annual New Beginnings Spring Powwow, held on Driscoll Green May 18, featured an Indian market, food, songs, dance and a special blanket ceremony honoring the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre. The Native Student Alliance (NSA) hosted the event with support from the Office of the Chancellor, the Undergraduate Student Government, the Center for Judaic Studies and the Center for Multicultural Excellence (CME).

“A powwow is a Native American tradition,” said Viki Eagle, graduate student advisor of the NSA and one of the founders of the DU powwow. “It’s a way of socializing and gathering and honoring our ancestors through traditional songs and dance. It’s also a way for the University to learn about native peoples.”

The schedule of events included dance competitions for juniors, teens and adults, with 100 registered dancers. Three drum groups from the Cheyenne and Arapahoe nations sang honor songs and contest songs. Various drum groups from the Denver community also attended.

In addition to traditional song and dance, the event featured an Indian market with authentic and handmade Native American jewelry, arts and crafts. Tocabe, a Denver-based Native American restaurant founded by DU alumni Ben Jacobs (BA ’05) and Matt Chandra (BA ’05), sold its signature Indian tacos at the powwow.

“I think this is a great event to have at the center of DU, because it shows that the University is committed to strengthening bonds with the native community,” said Billy Stratton, assistant professor of English and faculty advisor of the NSA. “I also think it’s important for native students at DU to see this and be a part of it.”

Stratton added that Chancellor Robert Coombe has been very supportive of the powwow. This year Coombe presented blankets to four representatives of descendants of victims of the Sand Creek Massacre, in order to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the event. The massacre occurred on Nov. 29, 1864, when Col. John Chivington and a force of 700 Colorado Territory militiamen attacked and destroyed a village of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians in the southeastern part of the Colorado Territory.

“Too often in the world today, I think we’re all shocked by the depths to which men’s hearts can descend, by the evil that can be perpetrated. Too often we see acts that seem to be so heinous that men are somehow separated from their humanity,” Coombe said. “There have been any number of such events in the history of the world. Wounds that can’t heal, that fester over generations and generations. Stains so deep that they can’t be cleansed with mere ceremony or words. And so it is with Sand Creek.

“Today, we can’t expect forgiveness or complete healing,” Coombe said. “All we can hope for is some small measure of comfort from knowing and understanding the history of that event and those times. We can hope for some solace by honoring the spirits of the dead, and by celebrating the lives of their descendants. It is my honor today to present blankets to representatives of the descendants, and in so doing we hope and pray for some small measure of comfort for the descendants, and some small measure of peace and understanding for us all.”

After speaking, Coombe presented blankets and plaques to Gail Ridgley from the Northern Arapahoe Nation, Karen Little Coyote from the Southern Cheyenne Nation and Henry Little Bird from the Arapahoe Nation. Steve Brady from the Northern Cheyenne Nation was unable to attend, so Otto Braided Hair accepted a blanket on his behalf. According to Eagle, a blanket is the highest respect and honor anyone can give in the Native American tradition.

“The chancellor believes that both parties need to heal,” Eagle said. “This has never been done before in history. Colorado has acknowledged that Sand Creek was a massacre, but DU is the first to commemorate it. DU has only mentioned this history briefly. Now, 150 years later, we are finally able to have a dialogue about it.”

Johanna Leyba, assistant provost for campus and community partnerships at the CME, agreed that the powwow was important for healing.

“I’ve been here for all of the powwows, and this is the biggest and most important because of the anniversary of Sand Creek. It’s important to recognize that history,” Leyba said. “This is a new beginning, and I think that’s a really good name for the powwow — New Beginnings. I hope that this can be a new beginning.”

According to Eagle, the event is also named New Beginnings because it takes place in the spring. She said part of the powwow is about celebrating incoming native students and sending out the native students who are graduating. Later in the afternoon there was a second blanket ceremony to honor five NSA students who are graduating this year.

According to Eagle, the powwow started because the NSA wanted to have a presence on campus and educate the DU community about native traditions. The spring powwow has always focused on the native community, which is very family-oriented, so to be able to come together and spend time together was important to participants. Eagle added that the powwow was a good opportunity to address access to higher education because native youth can come to DU and see that they are welcome on campus.

“I want people to know that even though native students are only .5 percent of the DU population, we are present on campus,” said Eagle. “We have a culture that’s powerful, that’s been a part of the University for 150 years, and a history that is tied to this land.”



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