Some Sand Creek massacre descendants, fed up with government inaction and the probable mishandling of reparations for their ancestors’ murders, are taking legal action to force an accounting of funds and a fulfillment of other provisions of an 1866 treaty.
The U.S. has failed to pay out or to keep track of trust funds that should have gone to descendants of those massacred in 1864, despite more than 100 attempts by government fiscal agencies over the last century to account for the resources cited in the Treaty of Little Arkansas.
Those are contentions in a class action lawsuit charging that the U.S. has “never accounted to any Indian, ever, as required by law, for the [Sand Creek] trust funds held, managed or controlled” by the government.
The horrific massacre of more than 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members, most of them women, children and the elderly, took place in a southeast Colorado Territory peace camp by cavalry under the command of U.S. Army Col. John Chivington, who said he had “come to kill Indians and believe[d] it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians,” the petition states.
Four tribal descendants of massacre victims filed the lawsuit, against the United States, the Department of the Interior, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The plaintiffs, from Oklahoma, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on July 11.
Chivington and the massacre’s atrocities came under scrutiny by the Army and others and he resigned, but money appropriated by Congress in 1866 to reimburse “members of the bands of Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians who suffered at Sand Creek” was insufficient, according to the court filing.
A class action is required, the plaintiffs said, because it’s believed there are more than 15,000 descendants of massacre victims at present and each is entitled to a share of reparations promised by treaty in order to “repudiate the gross and wanton outrages perpetrated against certain bands of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians” at Sand Creek November 29, 1864.
The charge of flawed government administration of Sand Creek trust funds echoes the larger revelation of mismanagement of individual Indian trust monies and tribal trust accounts settled in 2012 in Cobell v. Salazar et al., which established a general picture of negligence by the federal government.