Over the last 12 years, the journey of the Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run journeyed down County Road 54 as a way to honor and remember the battle it was named after. This year, that journey followed the newly named Chief White Antelope Way in honor of peace.
As the Thanksgiving myth leaves the collective American consciousness—at least for this year—and Native American Heritage Month winds down, a dose of reality took the forefront, straight from the history of Native lives lost but battles won in the invasion of the West.
Chief White Antelope Way was a noted Cheyenne peace chief, one of 11 leaders who died November 29, 1864 in a camp on Sand Creek in the high plains grassland of southeastern Colorado that probably looks today much as it did then, historian David Halaas, said.
The encampment was “very much a chief’s camp,” according to Halaas, who said that 11 leaders were among those promised safety by Colorado officials—a promise that proved lethal.
The 13th Annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run began from the Sand Creek Massacre National Historical Site, near Chivington, Colorado, early Thanksgiving Day to commemorate some 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho people—mostly women, children and the elderly—who were killed in a sneak attack by the 700-strong Colorado cavalry under Army Col. John Chivington.
November 24, was an unusually warm November day, as Otto Braided Hair, Northern Cheyenne and an organizer of the Healing Run, called in the four directions to the Sand Creek victims near the historical site and Reginald Killsnight, Northern Cheyenne, conducted a Pipe Ceremony.
Braided Hair mentioned that remains of some of the massacre victims are being repatriated from the Smithsonian Institution. He prayed for learning, growth and protection and then he and Killsnight painted the runners before they headed out on the first leg of a 186-mile relay to the state capitol.
An undercurrent of strength and resolve accompanied this year’s ceremony, where Norma Gourneau, Northern Cheyenne, told the runners to remember they were running for relatives who died at Sand Creek, and Karen Little Coyote, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma representative, said they should remember “to be proud—we’re a strong people” and “we’re survivors.”
As if to temper any aura of victimization surrounding Sand Creek, Halaas reminded those who came to the ceremony that massacre survivors and their allies retaliated by conducting lethal raids on Julesburg, Colorado and elsewhere. They also defeated troops that were sent to kill them and then, in the Treaty of the Little Arkansas, the U.S. government admitted guilt for the massacre.
Other events that underscored some differences between past and present included the involvement of people living near the historic site.
A turkey dinner for around 100 was arranged by the National Park Service and volunteers in Eads, Colorado – a town of about 700 near Sand Creek – for those who came to the healing run. Participants came from Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho Tribes and the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, including young runners and other tribal members from Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Oklahoma.
This year, some of the local high school youth expressed their interest as they joined the runners on the first leg of the Healing Run according to Jan Richards, community coordinator for the Kiowa County Economic Development Foundation in Eads.
The healing continues every year for these participants and this year, many saw the beginning of a Sand Creek Massacre research center in Eads that will provide a library and information source for descendants, tribal colleges, universities, and others who study the tragic event and the frontier at the time.
In Denver, prayers were offered at a medicine wheel-like sculpture by Cheyenne/Arapaho artist Edgar Heap of Birds that carries the message, “We are always returning back again.” Ceremonies were conducted at places connected to the death of Capt. Silas Soule, 1st Colorado Cavalry, who refused Chivington’s order to fire and who later was killed in Denver, apparently by a Chivington supporter.
At Colorado’s capitol, State Sen. Suzanne Williams represented Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in proclaiming November 20 – 24, 2011 as Sand Creek Massacre Healing Run/Walk and Remembrance Days. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock proclaimed November 24 – 26 the 13th Annual Sand Creek Massacre Run/Walk Days and the Medicine Heart Singers sang an honor song for him.