(text by Simon J.Ortiz) Gelatin silver
print, wooden frame, etched glass, Triptych-each 26 x 22.5” framed.
(Excerpt: from Sand Creek, Thunder's Mouth Press, Oak Park, New York.
Permission granted by Simon J. Ortiz)
The 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, between the United States government
and the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, recognized that the vast territory
between the North Platte River and Arkansas River and eastward from the
Rocky Mountains to western Kansas belonged to the tribes. However, with
the discovery of gold in the Rocky Mountains, the value of the land
changed, and a flood of white settlers moved in.. In 1861, ten Cheyenne
and Arapaho chiefs were intentionally deceived and unwittingly signed
the Treaty of Fort Wise which ceded two thirds of this land to the
United States. Many Cheyenne and Arapaho people rebelled against this
treaty signed by their chiefs and continued to use their original
lands. This consequently led to conflicts with the farmers and gold
In 1864, Black Kettle, chief of around 800 mostly Southern Cheyenne
people, reported to Fort Lyon to declare their presence as peaceful.
His camp was set out at nearby Sand Creek, less than 40 miles north.
Black Kettle flew an American flag given to him by President Lincoln in
1863 over the Elders lodge of the camp. He had been assured that this
practice would keep him and his people safe from U.S. soldiers'
aggression. On the morning of November 29, 1864 Colonel Chivington and
800 troops marched from Fort Lyon to Black Kettle's campsite at Sand
Creek, , and for no apparent reason, attacked camp, disregarded the
American flag, and a white flag that was run up shortly after the
soldiers commenced firing. The camp was unarmed. The Cheyenne men had
traveled to hunting grounds, at the time of the attack the camp was
only occupied by women, children and the elderly.
Chivington's soldiers brutally killed the majority of them. Accounts
differ – some say at least 105, others state that up to 400 people died
that day. According to the United States Congress Joint Committee on
the Conduct of the War, 1865, the soldiers then also scalped and
mutilated many of the dead, taking the body parts as battle trophies.
They were later publicly displayed in the Apollo Theater and saloons in
1981. In 1981 Simon J.Ortiz (Acoma Nation,
USA) was an Honored Poet recognized at the White House Salute to
Poetry. This same year he completed From Sand Creek: Rising In This
Heart Which Is Our America, a multilayered reflection on the events at
Sand Creek, honoring and remembering its victims, and asking how
Americans (of all kinds) can learn today from these sites and
histories. The work received the Pushcart Prize in poetry. "For Indian
people, I would like From Sand Creek to be a study of that process
which they have experienced as victim, subject, and expendable
resource. For the people of European heritage, I want it to be a study,
too, but one which looks at motive and mission and their own
victimization. I hope, finally, we will all learn something from each
other. We must." writes Simon J. Oritz.
2008. The Sand Creek massacre was driven
by the U.S. military's desire to clear the Cheyenne and the Arapaho off
the lands that were some of the most fertile grounds in the country.
The land was rich with resources, suitable for farming and cattle. The
later discovery of gold only increased its value and the potential for
it to provide untold wealth to the settlers. Cattle, farming and gold
were major capitalist interests 150 years ago. To secure and sustain
these interests, the settlers and the U.S. government used forceful and
violent strategies to remove the original inhabitants of this land.
Until this day, the U.S. Government has never officially acknowledged
the wrongs that were committed in the pursuit of these capitalist
interests, nor has it offered an official apology to the Cheyenne and
the Arapaho or Native Americans at large for the expropriation and
dispossession of lands. Many of the descendants of the survivors of the
massacre at Sand Creek and the countless other massacres that happened
throughout the United States, live in poor conditions, disenfranchised
on reservation land with dire need of social, economical and cultural
These early years of the United States of America can be seen as the
first steps of capitalist expansionism as we know and experience it
today. One could even call this the true beginning of the “permanent
war,” or " the long war," whereas the designation terrorist was used
for those who were then called "savages:" merely Native Americans
defending themselves against the invaders of their homeland, refusing
the moral, cultural and economical colonialization by the settlers and
their Manifest destiny.
To relate the current conditions and actions of the U.S. in the middle
East with the military zealotry it enacted 150 years ago might seem for
many far fetched. Yet the motivations, the rhetoric and the actions are
astonishingly similar. Both can be seen as motivated by the
underpinning of a grand capitalist, expansionist gesture, framed in
higher moral reasons and intentions. In an Op-Ed piece in the New York
Times on September 11th, 2002 George W. Bush officially connected the
concept of democracy with the concept of a free market. Until then, no
other U.S. president had ever formulated this in such direct manner. In
doing so he gave an official ideological underpinning to what had been
practiced in the United States since its foundation.
Massacres like Sand Creek are shameful episodes in American history.
The Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site was not established
until last year, 2007. As Simon J Oritz suggests, the site is not only
one of commemoration but offers itself as site for learning - to
reflect upon the arch that connects the events from 1864 to those of