Northwestern’s founder John Evans has a complex and controversial history. He was governor of Colorado during the Sand Creek Massacre, in which nearly 150 Native Americans were attacked by a militia and killed. In 2014 a research committee at Northwestern concluded that while Evans did not play a direct role in the conflict, his poor policies toward Native Americans made the massacre possible. However, another study from the University of Denver, which was also founded by Evans, holds him to “a significant level of culpability” for the massacre.
For these reasons, there has been a movement to stop honoring Evanston’s namesake. In 2013, the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance put out a petition demanding the University remove his name from University buildings which garnered about 300 signatures. They reintroduced it in January. This movement has put Evan’s legacy under further scrutiny.
Native Americans from the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes, those massacred at Sand Creek, joined Evans’ descendants on a panel Tuesday to discuss this legacy as well as how to heal from the damage it caused both groups.
The panel was made up of Joe Big Medicine and Otto Braided Hair Junior, who are both Cheyenne, and Gail Ridgely, who is Arapahoe. Ridgely and Braided Hair are descendants of survivors of the Sand Creek Massacre. They were joined by Evans’ great-great granddaughter Anne Hayden and great-great-great granddaughter Laurel Hayden. The panel was moderated by the dean of Weinberg, Adrian Randolph. All the panelists spoke about their connections to the massacre, and how they have felt pain from it.
“It’s been a struggle ever since I’ve started working on this project because of the way the Indians were treated,” Ridgely said “Enslavement, extractment, extinction.”
Ridgely added that some of his pain came from “stories that you hear about kids crying, begging, begging not to be shot as soldiers shoot target practice. It’s sad. We forgive but we don’t forget.”
Although her family did not talk about the massacre for a long time, Anne Hayden tried to gain as much knowledge as she could.
“Part of that healing journey for me was going out to the site and making peace,” she said.
Braided Hair said he has helped form the Sand Creek Massacre Historic site and organize a yearly healing run commemorating the massacre. Evans' descendants have helped out with the runs. Braided Hair said he was initially opposed to the idea of the Evans descendants helping, feeling that they had no right to participate in the Native Americans’ healing from the massacre their ancestor had a role in. He said he was also hesitant to come to Northwestern.
“Why should I go to the enemy’s home?” he said.
The answer: “I need to come here and do the work that needs to be done.”
Many participants also cited healing as their reason for partaking in the panel.
At the end of the session, Anne Hayden said she felt it would be the best option to leave Evans’ name on University buildings so that the history is not forgotten and to erect a monument detailing the massacre so the history is not forgotten.
Much of the audience was part of the campus movement to change the name and questioned this suggestion many times.
During this period, Native American members of the panel did express a strong opinion on changing the names of the building, but stressed the importance of education and discussion of both the massacre and Native American history and culture.
An audience member also asked about Evanston’s recent replacement of Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Ridgely said that although some Native American communities have a day like that, “they’re in a situation where there’s poverty, drugs and alcohol. They’re trying to save their languages but they’re running into resistance because of politics and that’s what’s holding us back. I think that a day like that could be expanded to all.”