University announces John Evans investigation committee
    Artist depiction of the Sand Creek Massacre, an 1864 slaughter of roughly 150 Native Americans overseen by Northwestern founder John Evans. Illustration by Howling Wolf on Wikimedia Commons / Licensed under Creative Commons.

    In response to a petition by the Native American Indigenous Student Alliance, Northwestern will form a John Evans Study Committee to investigate Evans’ involvement in the Sand Creek Massacre and his financial contributions to the Northwestern, a University press release announced Thursday.

    NAISA released a petition in January asking the University to recognize John Evans’ involvement in the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre. Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin informed NAISA on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the university’s charter, that a committee would be formed.

    The committee members have a variety of academic interests, ranging from 19th Century American history to bioethics. Seven professors, four from Northwestern, will comprise the committee. A graduate student will assist with research and preparation, and the team will collaborate with University archivist Kevin Leonard.

    Adam Mendel, NAISA co-president, said he was “very happy” about the announcement. “My only concern is that they didn’t make it a community process,” Mendel said.

    Provost Dan Linzer “asked members of the faculty to be on the committee and recommend others from outside the university,” said Al Cubbage, vice president for university relations. Cubbage said the study committee would start working “in the next month or so” and release a public report with its findings in June 2014.

    According to the announcement, the University will then form a separate recommendation committee to act on the study committee’s findings. Cubbage said provost Dan Linzer will form the recommendation committee at a later date.

    “I think we have an important and interesting task and I hope to come into it with an open mind,” said Carl Smith, professor of English and American Studies. Smith, who has studied Chicago history and the early history of the University, will chair the committee. 

    Smith will be joined by Northwestern faculty members Peter Hayes, history professor with a holocaust focus; Dylan Penningroth, history professor with a U.S. legal history focus; and Laurie Zoloth, a professor of religious studies as well as medical ethics and humanity in the Feinberg School of Medicine.

    Ned Blackhawk, Yale professor of history and American studies, will be one of three members of the committee from other institutions. He researched John Evans while working on his book, Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West.

    “He’s one character in a series of diplomatic encounters that I assessed in my book,” Blackhawk said.

    Evans was appointed to serve as territorial governor of Colorado during the Lincoln presidency. In 1864, the Colorado militia slaughtered over 150 Cheyenne and Arapahoe, the majority of whom were women and children. After a federal investigation into the matter, Evans was removed from his position.

    “[Sand Creek] should be at the forefront of the committee’s charge,” Blackhawk said. “We’ll provide a measured by concerned assessment of [Evans’] time in Colorado.”

    Frederick Hoxie, a history professor at University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, will be the sixth member of the committee. His research focus is indigenous politics. He served as director of the D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies at the Newberry Library in Chicago for more than 10 years.

    The committee’s final member is University of Arkansas history professor Elliott West. He specializes in American western and Indian history.

    Sociology professor Gary Fine, who co-authored of The Daily Northwestern guest editorial about the petition, said his reaction to the news was “mixed and slightly complex.”

    “The University could have used this as a teaching moment to bring the University together,” Fine said. “I wish President [Morton] Schapiro took this on as being his issue ... We’re dealing with an issue of genocide and Northwestern’s involvement,” Fine said.


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