The Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance released a petition asking the University to formally recognize the role Northwestern co-founder John Evans played in the Sand Creek Massacre this week. In 1864, while Evans served as governor of the Colorado territory, he allegedly ordered a militia to attack and destroy a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, murdering 150 natives.
The petition also requests that the University erect a memorial on campus in honor of those killed at Sand Creek, establish a Native American Studies program and create a scholarship fund for Native students. If built, the design of the memorial would be decided by members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho nations.
“The history of Sand Creek is a painful one and covering up that history or denying that history only increases the pain,” said Weinberg senior Adam Mendel, co-president of NAISA. Similarly, a Native American Studies program will allow both indigenous and non-indigenous students to explore the rich Native American heritage, according to Mendel. “It legitimizes the work of Native historians, sociologists and scholars.”
What does formal recognition of Evans’ actions involve? According to NAISA co-president and Weinberg sophomore Heather Menefee, the Sand Creek Massacre is not mentioned in Evans’ biography on the official Northwestern website. That is one request under formal recognition in the petition, as well as a public statement from President Schapiro recognizing Evans’ role in Sand Creek by the end of January. Northwestern does not actively recruit Native American students, according to Menefee. “They can’t even tell us how many Native students go to this school,” she said.
NAISA plans to formally present the petition to President Morton Schapiro on Founders Day (Jan. 28), a day that typically celebrates John Evans.
Dr. Lesley-Ann Brown, director of campus inclusion and community, believes NAISA’s petition will give native people a voice on campus and attract other indigenous students. “It proves that Northwestern is taking steps,” she said.
NAISA first introduced the petition to Burgwell Howard, assistant vice president for student engagement, on Nov. 29, Sand Creek’s 148th anniversary.
“[Howard] asked us ‘which one of these requests are you actually serious about?,’” Menefee said. “We said all of them.”
In an email, Howard wrote he is “very glad to see our students taking up an issue they are passionate about,” but that some elements of the petition are much more plausible than others. Federal legislation forbids universities from providing scholarships to students solely on the basis of race, so establishing scholarship funds for Native people exclusively from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes would be a violation.
Howard also expressed concern about the likelihood of establishing a Native American Studies program. According to Howard, there is a rigorous process in establishing a new area of study at Northwestern and there is already a long line of subject areas that have been proposed to the Provost for consideration.
“There needs to be a critical mass of scholars to do the research, and teach the courses, and of course you need a critical mass of students interested to study in these areas,” Howard wrote. The Indigenous population represents less one percent of Northwestern’s total enrollment, so for Howard, there is not an “obvious” group of students on campus available to study the coursework.
Students faced similar difficulties in establishing cultural studies programs in the past, including the Latina and Latino Studies and the Asian American Studies departments.
“Students had to overrun the bursar’s office for the African American Studies program. That had to be fought for,” said Sabrina D’Agostino, Weinberg sophomore and NAISA member. “This petition should be all it takes."