DENVER — Were U.S. treaties truly binding, the land now known as Longmont — as well as its neighboring cities and towns to the east — would be in the hands of the Northern Cheyenne and Southern Arapaho American Indian tribes.
This guarantee granted through the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie — among a legacy of broken promises made to this area’s first residents — remains a contentious and important part of Colorado history.
“Tribal Paths: Colorado’s American Indians, 1500 to Today,” a new sister exhibit to the Colorado History Museum’s 2-year-old “Ancient Voices,” grants visitors access to the past 500 years through the eyes of 47 tribes culturally affiliated with the state. It’s a moving testament to each tribe’s contributions to the state and beyond and, at times, a difficult reminder of atrocities time will not erase.
“I’m getting chills,” Madupe Labode, CHM’s chief historian, said last week during a tour of the exhibit, which officially opens today. She and Bridget Ambler, the museum’s curator of material culture, paused beneath an overhead speaker emitting the singing voice of LaForce Lone Bear, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe who lost ancestors in the infamous Sand Creek Massacre. The two recorded Lone Bear’s memorial song to his forebears last year.
“It was really moving, and I think because of issues of exploitation, I think it was very gracious and generous of him to share this very important part of Cheyenne history,” Labode said.
Ambler and Labode worked closely with tribal elders, academics, fellow historians, archeologists and consultants from various tribes to retain the utmost accuracy and respect for each tribe. They attended and used video recorders to document ceremonial events, all of which add weight to the experience.
The exhibit flows into its predecessor “Ancient Voices,” which tells the stories of those who shaped Colorado’s history, from 10,000 to 1,000 years ago. “Tribal Paths” also opens to the east, a reference to the Southern Ute belief that one’s house should greet the rising sun.
Each of the 3,000-square-foot exhibit’s galleries incorporate the theme that American Indians still exist (the 2000 Census reported 44,241 were living in Colorado). Digital screens loop historic photographs of American Indians, while display cases offer glimpses of important relics.
Display items illustrate how integral American Indian tribes were to trade networks: a buffalo-hide Comanche trade tipi and a rare, long-barreled hunting gun; the Lakota tribe’s unyielding sacred honor of horses; the Hopi and Navajo Indians’ hand-
crafted bowls and wrist guards.
The exhibit delves into the increasingly antagonistic relationship between each tribe and the U.S. government. One exhibition space explores an example of cooperation, not conflict, with a view of how Amache Ochinee Prowers, a Cheyenne woman, and her white husband, John Prowers, might have lived.
“Tribal Paths” also addresses conflict through audio-visual memorials to those lost in the Sand Creek Massacre. A recreated display of Grand Junction’s Teller Institute, a boarding school created to “Americanize” young American Indian girls, explores the U.S. government’s stance of assimilation, not annihilation.
American Indians’ struggle for independence and assimilation continues. The museum provides proof through displays of sought-after American Indian art (local artist Bunky Echohawk will have work on display), the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ efforts to attract tribal members to metropolitan areas, and the use of American Indian mascots by Colorado schools and professional sports organizations.
“We’re hoping to open the visitors’ minds and expose our visitors to some of these stereotypes,” Ambler said.
If you go
What: “Tribal Paths: Colorado’s American Indians, 1500 to Today”
When: Opens at 10 a.m. today
Where: Colorado History Museum, 1300 Broadway, Denver
Tickets: $7 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, and $5 for youth ages 6 to 12. Free for children 5 and younger
Special events: Community celebration/American Indian dancing, 10 a.m. Saturday; special activities all day Jan. 27; Peace Pipe, a lecture by historian Brett Rushforth, 1 and 7 p.m. Feb. 20; Plains Indian dancing, all day Feb. 24
More info: 303-866-3682; www.coloradohistory.org
Valerie Singleton can be reached at 303-684-5319 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.