Ethical Dilemma

Sep 2, 2021 |

“Colorado Governor Rescinds 1864 Order Encouraging the Massacre of Native Americans”

According to the article, more than 150 years ago, leaders in Colorado issued proclamations urging citizens to kill Native Americans in the area. That order was never officially rescinded — until now.

Recently, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order rescinding the proclamation, ordered by Territorial Governor John Evans in 1864.

“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 Further, when Colorado became a state, they never became law, as they were superseded by the Colorado Constitution, United States Constitution, and Colorado criminal code,” the executive order reads.

The proclamations issued by then-Governor Evans warned that “all hostile Indians would be pursued and destroyed” unless they left their homes and gathered at certain camps. It authorized citizens of the territory to “kill and destroy … hostile Indians” and steal the Natives’ land and property, according to the executive order.

Governor Evans also supplied organized militias with arms and ammunition, according to the Sand Creek Massacre Foundation.

The 1864 proclamations led to the Sand Creek Massacre later that year, where troops killed hundreds of Cheyenne and Arapahoe people. In 2014, then-Governor John Hickenlooper formally apologized to the descendants of the victims of the massacre.

Because the proclamations were never officially rescinded, “they therefore remain as a symbol of a gross abuse of executive power during that grave period in our State’s history,” the executive order signed this week reads.

“When then-Governor Evans made that proclamation, he said that you can hunt Native people, just as if you could hunt a buffalo, an antelope, an elk, a deer. It was open season,” said Reggie Wassana, governor of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, at Tuesday’s ceremony. “And we do appreciate what Governor Polis has acknowledged. He wants to try to make a wrong right. And that’s what we’re here for today and that’s what we look forward to, is that we would like to see all those wrongs that were done all those years ago come back to right.”

Tribal leaders and members from the Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho, and the Northern Arapaho tribes also attended the ceremony, according to the media.

The move by Polis is among one of many recent gestures that aim to at least symbolically repair the harm done to Native populations in the U.S.

Multiple sports teams in the U.S. have made moves to remove stereotypical, offensive or appropriative portrayals of Native Americans, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a new unit earlier this year within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to tackle the decades-long crisis of missing and murdered Natives.

Meanwhile, movements to reclaim Native land have also steadily gained momentum.

Discussion Questions

1. What is an executive order?

An executive order is a governmental directive, issued by the president of the United States at the federal level or by a governor at the state level, that manages operations of the government. Once issued, an executive order remains in force until it is canceled, revoked, adjudicated unlawful, or expires on its terms.

2. What is a proclamation?

A proclamation is a public or official announcement, especially one dealing with a matter of great importance. Regarding this article, the proclamation issued by Territorial Governor John Evans in 1864 had similar force and effect then as Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ executive order does today. Of course, Governor Polis’ executive order takes precedence over Territorial Governor Evans’ proclamation, since the executive order was issue specifically to overturn the proclamation.

3. Does it surprise you that it took over 150 years to rescind Territorial Governor John Evans’ 1864 proclamation? Why or why not?

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary.

 Your author is not surprised that it took over 150 years to rescind Territorial Governor Evans’ proclamation, given the fact that it has taken so long for the country to come into compliance with the Civil Rights Act. In your author’s opinion, it takes a much stronger leader to do the “right thing” than to do what is politically expedient.