COLORADO SPRINGS — After more than 150 years, Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order Tuesday undoing proclamations that called upon non-native Coloradans to "go in pursuit, kill and destroy Indians on the plains."
Polis was joined by Lt. Governor Dianne Primavera and members of the Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Tribe, and the Northern Arapaho Tribe to rescind the orders made by the second Territorial Governor John Evans.
“The 1864 Proclamations were never lawful because they violated established treaty rights and federal Indian law. Further, when Colorado became a state, they never became law, as they were superseded by the Colorado Constitution, United States Constitution, and Colorado criminal code. Yet, the 1864 Proclamations have never been officially rescinded. They, therefore, remain as a symbol of gross abuse of executive power during that grave period in our State’s history,” the executive order reads. “For these reasons, I find it necessary to officially finally rescind the shameful 1864 Proclamations through this Executive Order and provide closure for this dark period of our territorial history,” the Executive Order continues.
"As a non-native that serves native Americans, I think it is well overdue. I don't think it should have happened in the first place. They were doing what any human being would have done if someone had come to steal their land, privacy, the food they've hunted for and disrupting their lives," said Kathy Turzi, Executive Director of One Nation Walking Together.
In 1864, Evans issued the first proclamation which called for American Indians to go to forts for food and safety.
"It advised natives to go to the military forts and they would protect them. That was in June, and in August there was a second proclamation that the territorial governor Evans said I issued the other proclamation but they didn't listen so he authorized anyone to shoot any Indian on sight and even though he couldn't pay them, they could take whatever belongings they had on them and land," said Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, D-Commerce City.
The proclamations setting the course for one of the worst events in U.S. history, the Sand Creek Massacre.
"Months later after the proclamations were issued, 230 Cheyenne and Arapahoe people, mostly women, children, and elderly were murdered in the Sand Creek Massacre. Over the years, Colorado has taken steps to reckon with the past of violence and suffering that occurred on that day of November 1864, including the dedication of a national historic site and offering an official apology from the state of Colorado to the descendants of those who were killed. This is an ongoing process to make amends with the sins of the past," said Polis.
"For 157 years, two harmful and appalling proclamations made by a territorial governor when Colorado was not yet a state have hung over us like a dark cloud. Today, we take an important step to begin to clear that dark cloud. Territorial Governor Evan's horrific proclamation directing non-residents of Colorado to seek out and kill Indians is one of the many symbols from the disturbing chapter in our state's history. The effects of that trauma have rippled down through generations, to deny the ongoing consequences is to willfully blind ourselves to the pain that no single action can heal. This executive order will not remove the stain from Colorado's origin story, nor should it. We remember the past in order to acknowledge our state's beginnings as we work toward a better future and work toward healing our state together," said Primavera.
The rescinding of the proclamations just a small step toward reconciliation.
"If anything if this can bring awareness to a new issue and open up someone's eyes to say I want to learn more about a culture or a people," said Turzi.