Art by Isaac Suarez Flint
Art by Isaac Suarez Flint

Shaped by the past, crafting a more just future in Evanston and beyond for Native Americans

February 27, 2023

When Kadin Mills and Isabella Twocrow think about the 2013 Northwestern study that explored the role of John Evans in the Sand Creek Massacre, they do not look fondly at the product. They do not find peace in knowing that well-educated historians from Northwestern and elsewhere inspected this topic and produced a 114-page report. Rather, they feel anger, frustration and hurt. They feel let down, not just by the study, which was published well before they were at Northwestern, but by the continued failure of Northwestern administrators to acknowledge the harmful legacy of Evans. 

“[Northwestern] is a very privileged school, and oftentimes [it] leaves students of color to themselves. And I say that because I think it takes a certain amount of privilege to be able to turn away from history as deep and harmful as this,” says Twocrow, a senior at Northwestern and descendant of Oglala Lakota and Citizen of The Ho-Chunk Nation

Like any American college town, Evanston is a reflection of the university it houses, with Northwestern significantly impacting economic, social and residential development within the community. While Northwestern and Evanston share similar values and priorities, they also share a history of Indigenous erasure, in part, because of both establishments’ direct connections to John Evans. 

A Cycle of Inequality

Not only was Evans deeply involved in the founding of Northwestern, he is also the namesake and founder of Evanston. Due to this, the history of Evanston is inherently the history of Evans, with his influence appearing in the structure of Evanston streets, government and schools. 

To me, personally, and to my tribe, [Evans] was culpable

— Gail Ridgley, member of the Arapaho tribe

The nine founders of Northwestern University were all Methodists, including Evans, and many of Evanston’s streets are named after influential Methodists of the 18th and 19th century. Other Evanston street names can almost always be traced back to a professional or familial relationship to Evans. 

Additionally, the John Evans apartment complex is located on Hinman Avenue, and Northwestern’s John Evans Alumni center sits off of Clark Street beach, just blocks away from the Northwestern Center for Native American and Indigenous Research. Evans’ history blatantly stares back at Evanston communities each day, yet is seldom recognized by students, visitors and residents.

While the degree of Evans’ involvement within the Sand Creek Massacre is widely debated, the missteps taken by the Colorado government in November of 1864 clearly show that Evans was one of the prominent individuals involved with the initiation of the massacre. For Gail Ridgley, a member of the Arapaho tribe and descendant of those murdered in Sand Creek, this is enough to hold Evans responsible for the attack. 

“To me, personally, and to my tribe, [Evans] was culpable,” says Ridgley.

For current Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss, the controversy around Evans’ involvement is more complicated. 

“I think the general point of view that’s helpful to take is that most heinous acts done under the umbrella of government are not the fault of a single individual but rather the deliberately generated consequences of a system,” says Biss. 

The correlation between Indigenous erasure, governmental accountability and economic development, however, is not exclusive to Evanston. Heather Menefee, a graduate student at Northwestern and the first Native American Studies major at Northwestern, recognizes the same relationship on a national level. 

We’re living on land that was seized through violence from Indigenous nations. The only group who gets mentioned in the Declaration of Independence is the ‘merciless Indian savages

— Heather Menefee, the first Native American Studies major at Northwestern

“We’re living on land that was seized through violence from Indigenous nations, and that’s so baked into our federal government, our Constitution, our legal system, the radicalization of Native people in particular. The only group who gets mentioned in the Declaration of Independence is the ‘merciless Indian savages,’” says Menefee. 

The Western interpretation of the founding of America often involves such language, dehumanizing Indigenous people and their histories.

Enter the Evanston History Center through its intricate arched doorway, ask to explore the center’s archives, and a person can find out pretty much anything they want to know about John Evans and the founding of Evanston. However, ask about the Indigenous history of the land, and there will only be two or three records of land treaties. 

Indigenous history was rarely recorded physically by non-Native people, but rather through oral history within tribal communities. What was recorded was either destroyed, hidden or manipulated by colonizers, further limiting the amount of written Indigenous history in America. Because of this, the western history taught in American curriculums at every educational level is starkly different from the history told within Indigenous communities. The American version of Indigenous history can be seen within the APUSH curriculum taught at ETHS, as well as various classes offered at Northwestern and other educational institutions.    

Menefee credits the discriminatory teachings of Indigenous history to the standards of what is considered to be valid history and knowledge within American academia. 

 “I think the discrimination against Native and Indigenous Studies has to do with colonial standards about what counts as knowledge, what counts as research and who counts as an expert in something,” she says. “It’s also about who gets to claim that they are able to produce objective, reliable knowledge about something.”

“There’s this way that systematically [Northwestern] and other universities—it’s not just Northwestern, but it’s pretty bad here—they devalue the expertise of native people,” continues Menefee.

The oral histories that shape Indigenous communities and culture are often delegitimized due to the standards described by Menefee. However, to Ridgley and his tribal community, these histories are sacred, and essential to honoring the past. 

There’s this way that systematically [Northwestern] and other universities—it’s not just Northwestern, but it’s pretty bad here—they devalue the expertise of native people

— Heather Menefee

“We have oral histories. Our histories are very strong, and they’re real. People believe [western] history because it’s written with no input from tribal people, because we’re sub-citizens, right?” says Ridgley. “Western historians, they believe in written, black and white. With us it is oral history. And we have that to guide us,” he continues.

Both government and educational institutions have actively prevented the teachings of Indigenous histories, while also aiming to “Americanize” indigenous people by disconnecting them from their culture. Residential boarding schools were the primary tool in achieving this, as well as the implementation of government controlled reservations. For Ridgley, his family was forced to change their name from Ridge Bear to Ridgely while living on their reservation. Others were forced to abandon their cultural practices and traditions to participate in American ones. Residential schools were in practice from the 1880s to the late 20th century, with over 150,000 Native children separated from their families to attend the schools. 

With generations of Indigenous people being forced into American education and religious practices, cultural disconnection is common within many Native communities.

“Today, there are a lot of Arapaho people who don’t know their histories, or stories, or our people. They don’t know the language or the ceremonies and are just disconnected from culture,” says Ridgley.

In the past decade, mass burial sites have been discovered at the locations of many former residential schools, revealing the thousands of deaths caused by neglect and abuse faced by Native children.

Indigenous history is suffocated by traumatic events, such as the Sand Creek Massacre and the 20th century residential school murders. Beyond these events, other acts of violence, dehumanization and discrimination have led to severe trauma within native communities. For the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, who are descendants of the victims of Sand Creek, this trauma is faced on a daily basis. 

“Multigenerational trauma affects almost every aspect of our lives,” says Ridgley. “Its impacts are reflected in the place in Wyoming where we currently live. The language and the food that we eat, the health care, education and opportunities we have. All of these things are a reflection and result of the violence and genocide of the past, with Sand Creek being the most traumatic event of our past.” 

Native American territories from 1784 to 2023, with darker areas being more recent, lighter being older.

Not only has colonization led to trauma and horrific events such as Sand Creek; its connection to capitalism and corporate America are also prevalent within contemporary society. The violent forced relocation of Indigenous people, as well as the lack of access to social and economic resources, has led to a harsh increase in poverty within Native communities today. 

Almost all tribal land is managed by the federal government, leaving tribes with little to no control over economic growth in their communities. Lack of autonomy within employment, entrepreneurship and land usage are key components that lead to these high rates of poverty.

“But yet, what compounds prejudice and racism that we deal with in our Indian communities … is poverty. When you have poverty, you can’t afford a comfortable life. You have to scrape the bottom of your cards to have [access to] social programs. Healthcare, too. We don’t have the luxuries of an ideal corporate American lifestyle,” explains Ridgley.

Without access to the economic resources that a majority of American families have,  Indigenous people are further separated from society, exacerbating the erasure and trauma that they already endure on a daily basis. 

From the genocide that took place at Sand Creek to the honoring of individuals such as John Evans, Indigenous erasure is deeply rooted in American society. This erasure clearly presents itself as educational censorship, cultural discrimination as well as the notion that Indigenous people are not present in modern society. 

“The reason [this erasure] is so problematic is it creates this idea not only with the ‘savage barbarity,’ but the concept of past tense,” says Miigis Curley, a Native American student and junior at ETHS. “You wouldn’t talk about so many different people this way… where you call them the Native Americans, but you wouldn’t say the Blacks, because that’s messed up. It puts us in the past tense, and that’s not true, because I am here. My family is here. I have so much more family all around me. I have hundreds and hundreds of cousins. I go to my reservation in Canada or Navajo Nation, and I meet new relatives every time I go. We are everywhere; it’s just that this systematic Indigenous erasure makes it seem like we’re extinct.” 

As Native students, Curley and their siblings have grown to expect the erasure present not only within society, but within their classrooms. This is a shared experience between Native students within the American school system, from elementary school to college and beyond.

Accountability at Northwestern

Both Mills and Twocrow are members of the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance, which was founded in the 2011-2012 school-year as a space for Native students and their allies to connect with each other and grow their presence on campus. 

“[NAISA] is a space on campus for us to come together. We reflect, we hang out, we plan events. And it’s really a community space for us to be together on campus,” Twocrow says. 

We are everywhere; it’s just that this systemic Indigenous era- sure makes it seem like we’re extinct.

— Miigis Curley, Native American student at ETHS

NAISA was created following the controversial Northwestern investigation into John Evans, and students at the time hoped that this new organization represented a shift away from the university’s shortcomings in Native American relations. Northwestern’s failures remained.

Twocrow highlights a specific incident that occurred in November of 2021 during Native American Heritage Month. When NAISA painted Northwestern’s famous rock, which has been a  staple for protesters and artists on campus for decades,  with red handprints that represented missing and murdered Indigenous women in North America, it was vandalized. 

“Vandals spray painted ‘Ojibwe? No Way’ and changed a land acknowledgement, ‘You are on Anishinaabe land,’ to ‘You are on China’s land.’ They also painted over some of the group’s messages, including ‘Happy Native American Heritage Month!’ and ‘Bring our children home,’” The Daily Northwestern reported at the time.  

The NAISA members who painted The Rock simply sought to educate and uplift. They sought to celebrate a month dedicated to Indigenous history and to draw attention to the continuous oppression of Indigenous people. Hateful Northwestern students—people with whom those NAISA members may even have shared an address —couldn’t accept Indigenous students’ presence on campus. It exemplifies the huge gap between what Northwestern presents itself as: an inclusive institution that welcomes and cherishes all backgrounds, and what Northwestern, and any university, can be: a vessel for hate speech and culture wars. 

Direct blame for this incident can go to no one except those who committed the crime, but, in Twocrow’s eyes, others must take blame as well. Twocrow believes that Northwestern administrators are responsible for the inaction in the aftermath of the rock incident. She says that, since the rock was painted over in the same week as another incident occurred on campus, administrators were more concerned with their image than their students’ well-being.  

“[Northwestern was] afraid to publish another announcement about an incident of this nature on campus the same week, because they were afraid [of] what donors would say that they don’t have their students under control [or], you know, something’s wrong,” she states. 

NAISA members believe that this incident sheds light on the university’s priority of publicity over respect, which, from their perspective, is the same thinking that produced the disappointing Evans study. Despite their frustration, students continue to find the silver lining. 

We refuse to be defined by the tragedy and trauma of Sand Creek and other genocides our people have been subjected to.

— Gail Ridgley

“I think [the rock incident and ensuing frustration] ultimately brought a lot of our community together,” Twocrow remarks. “And so it’s horrible that this incident happened, but it brought everyone into our space, and it made everyone loud and angry at what the university had done. And we had one of the largest Sand Creek commemorations this past year because of it.”

The annual Sand Creek commemoration is a chance for Northwestern and Evanston community members to remember the lives lost in the Sand Creek Massacre. Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal elders and members are invited to Evanston to, as Twocrow says, “commemorate the massacre and heal together.” This past November, the event started at the John Evans Alumni Center and proceeded through Northwestern’s campus. It’s a chance for the Native American community on campus to make themselves visible—to honor the victims of the massacre and carry on their legacy. 

While Twocrow and the students at the NAISA appreciate the yearly opportunity to remember Sand Creek, they are disappointed with school administrators’ continued absence at the commemoration. 

“Throughout all the years that I’ve been here, a president of Northwestern has yet to come to one of these commemorations,” Twocrow emphasizes. “They don’t see this as their responsibility. They’re [still] trying to get their minds around what a land acknowledgement is for the tribes that we already have here, and it’s hard for them to understand that Indigenous relationships move beyond just the space that we occupy, but actually relationships which have been built over centuries.”

Twocrow’s complaints are shared by Northwestern Professor of the Learning Sciences Megan Bang, of Ojibwe and Italian descent. 

“There wasn’t a special issued statement, which signals a lack of importance. But I also think it’s partly because [administrators] didn’t understand how horrific [the massacre] was. Like, I think that part of what is happening is that people know so little that they don’t really understand,” she states.

While Northwestern administrators maintain shaky relationships with students and struggle to acknowledge the importance of recognizing Indigenous history, the university has made significant strides to uplift its Native American community. Many of those strides stem, not from the 2013 study, but from the Native American Outreach and Inclusion Task Force that was created shortly after the study was published. 

I think it takes a certain amount of privilege to be able to turn away from history as deep and harmful as this.

— Isabella Twocrow, Northwestern senior and co-chair of NAISA

Forrest Bruce, of Ojibwe descent, is a former undergraduate student at Northwestern who is currently studying for a PhD in Learning Sciences. He was one of the 19 people on the task force, which was made up of university representatives, members of the Evanston and Chicago native communities and two Northwestern students. 

“[The task force was] put together… to create a set of recommendations for Northwestern to reconcile with its history, and also just generally make a more welcoming and inclusive environment for indigenous people,” Bruce says.

Menefee, who was the other student on the task force at the time, believes the goals that they laid out were critical to guiding the ensuing changes at Northwestern.

“The report that we came out with was a set of recommendations for the university to address lots of different areas. And I think that’s been the more impactful report [than the Evans one], thankfully,” she states.

Since the task force concluded its research in 2014, several improvements have been made on the Northwestern campus. For instance, the number of Native American students at Northwestern has increased in the past decade. In 2014, there were seven indigenous students across the entire student body. By comparison, 33 students in Northwestern’s class of 2025 alone are Native or Indigenous. This marginal increase is still a win for Menefee, Bruce and the NAISA, who have advocated for more Indigenous representation in the student body. 

Another advancement that came out of the task force is The Center for Native American and Indigenous Research. The center was created as a resource for Native American Students on campus. 

“Now, on campus, there’s a place that is distinctly native where Native people can go and you don’t have to explain yourself or who you are, because a common experience for a lot of Native people, especially at predominantly white institutions, is that no one really understands what it’s like to be Native,” Bruce says.

That sentiment also has to do with the lack of Indigenous faculty on campus. In 2013, hiring Native American professors became a main talking point for student advocates. Menefee sped that process along by carving out a new Native American Studies program. 

“I took any class I could find related to Native American history, Native American studies, in 11 different departments. I think I took 23 classes total for the major,” she states. 

“If we took Indigenous nationhood and sovereignty and personhood seriously, then we would have to deal with the fact that we’re occupying sovereign territory.”

— Heather Menefee

Her vision for a new program came to fruition in 2015 with the creation of the Native American and Indigenous Studies minor. Even though the process was complex and often challenging for Menefee, Northwestern administrators ensured that she would not be the last student at Northwestern to explore Native American Studies.

“Once there had been enough faculty hires, which started to happen in 2015, they hired an English professor and then the next year a history professor, someone in sociology, [and] those faculty came together and put together a Native American Studies minor and Native American Studies program, which is what we have now,” Menefee says. 

Overall, the changes have pleased many folks who have been dissatisfied with Northwestern’s relationship to Indigenous people. For students like Bruce, these actions are a step in the right direction for the university. 

“I started my undergrad just over 10 years ago, and there’s just been a world of difference that I’ve witnessed unfold. The change that has happened at Northwestern has been pretty incredible. I think it still has a long way to go, but it’s been really a cool experience to see the way that it has changed in that amount of time,” he remarks.

These strides, however, don’t mean that everything is fixed. For the NAISA, progress doesn’t mean that Northwestern should be content with its advancements. Because even if the university did everything right—if it invested in more Indigenous faculty, admitted more Indigenous students, attended the Sand Creek commemoration and acknowledged its many shortcomes in Indigenous student relations—it would still be bound by its origins. For generations of Indigenous Northwestern students to come, the university will forever sit on land taken from their ancestors. It will forever be bound by the reality that it was founded by a racist. It will forever benefit from the billions of dollars that are contributed by alumni who achieved success because of their whiteness in a society that has expelled and massacred people of color. 

 “Dehumanizing indigenous people has been one of the main ways that a very diverse melting pot of settlers have built their own identity here,” Menefee voices. “And [that dehumanization] is the foundation of what makes life stable and possible for most white people who have inherited generational wealth.” 

Erasure at ETHS

While Indigenous erasure is a core aspect of private institutions like Northwestern, it is also prevalent in the legacy of public schools. Schools in the northern suburbs of Chicago, which are dominated by white students, lie on land that was seized from Indigenous people. The halls that ETHS students walk in every day were built for a new generation of colonizers while Native Americans were forced out.

Rick Cardis, an AP U.S. History (APUSH) teacher at ETHS, is one of the few instructors at the school who opts to teach about the Sand Creek Massacre and John Evans. 

“There’s no expectation that [ETHS teachers] do anything with Sand Creek. And for APUSH, they don’t tell us exactly what topics to teach,” he explains. 

However, Cardis believes that he can play a role in educating young Evanstonians on the city’s complex history. He believes that the namesake of Evanston is not talked about enough and that the legacy of Sand Creek is relevant for all ETHS students.

“I bet if you asked most people, they wouldn’t know why the city is named Evanston. And I don’t know that we need to do anything like start a campaign to change the name of the city, but I do think it is important to know who our heroes are and who the people are that we name things after.”

Indigenous history at ETHS isn’t limited to history classes. Adriane Slaton, a Biology and AP Environmental Science teacher at ETHS, covers Evans’ history as well.

“We talk about how the namesake of Evanston was involved in the atrocity in the space that is now Colorado. Some years, I have had students look at what different university reports document as to John Evans’ involvement,” she says.  

Slaton believes that Indigenous history is fundamental in education.

And [I want to] have people know that ETHS is not behind. They’re just the same about this. But ETHS is built on Indigenous absence.

— Northwestern Professor of the Learning Sciences Megan Bang

“I think in Environmental Science, and any subject, it is important to recognize the land we are on is colonized and stolen land. We cannot talk about the land we live and work on without recognizing, acknowledging, and learning from our dark history—a dark history that still impacts all of us today.”

These individual efforts, however, do not represent how Indigenous history is taught at ETHS and in high schools across the country. Textbooks and teachers often still fail to adequately recognize the legacy of colonization and genocide of Native Americans. This system of ignorance can be traced back to the boarding schools that stole Native American children away from their families and ‘civilized’ them by taking away their culture and identity.

“88 percent of teachers report that they never or once a year mentioned Native people,” Bang states. “It means that [while] it’s not boarding schools anymore, intellectually, nothing’s changed. Native kids still have to learn U.S. base knowledge in order to get degrees.”

Furthermore, ETHS’ shortcomings have extended past the curricular issues that so many schools across the country face. At the 2022 graduation ceremony, Nimkii Curley, an ETHS senior and a Turtle Clan Ojibwe and Black Sheep Salt Clan Navajo, was not allowed to graduate with his peers. Based on reporting by The Daily Northwestern, Curley had added an eagle feather and traditional Ojibwe floral beadwork to his graduation cap. An event coordinator and a security guard pulled Curley out of the line of ETHS students waiting to receive their diploma. They told him that he could only receive his diploma if he wore an unmarked cap. Curley refused and left that event—that culmination of four years of hard work and dedication—without a diploma. 

Bang, who is Curley’s mother, explains his refusal to walk the stage with an unmarked cap.

“[Nimkii] knew that the folks that wouldn’t let him walk didn’t really understand what it meant. They didn’t understand that his grandpa had his hair cut and was not allowed to speak Navajo [when he was taken to a boarding school].” Bang continues, “The choice to walk with nothing would have increased trauma in our family line.”

This incident represents a failure by ETHS to recognize its facilitation of decades of generational trauma in Native American families. Despite the glaring problems that came to light last May, Bang credits administrators for their response to the incident.

We don’t want to do it to be checking a box. We want to do it because it has some meaning and to acknowledge and to have real meaning and power behind the acknowledgment.

— Superintendent Marcus Campbell

“I’ve appreciated ETHS’ response and want to honor that. And [I want to] have people know that ETHS is not behind. They’re just the same about this. But ETHS is built on Indigenous absence.”

ETHS is currently making an effort to create a detailed land acknowledgement. Superintendent Marcus Campbell cites similar ones done by the Evanston Public Library and District 65, the Evanston K-8 school district. 

“We don’t want to do it to be checking a box,” Campbell says. “We want to do it because it has some meaning and to acknowledge and to have real meaning and power behind the acknowledgment.”

“What the hell do we do all this equity work and have all of these conversations about if we can’t apply the knowledge?”

Honoring Indigenous History

It is important to recognize that all of the significant change created at Northwestern and within other educational institutions has been initiated by the students. From Nimkii Curley’s refusal to walk the stage at graduation to the formation of NAISA, Native students have carried the heaviest burden when it comes to the painful process of changemaking. 

“A lot of the burden to create change is still on students because, historically, the students are the people who’ve had the most power to create change in universities, [since] without students, the university does not function,” says Menefee.

 As a Native American Northwestern student, Twocrow is used to being depended on to begin conversations regarding change. 

The Arch at Northwestern University

“So many times, I talk to faculty, and they just remind us that we’re the future, we’re the ones creating the world that we’re in. And if it weren’t for Native American and Indigenous students, the John Evans report wouldn’t have been created.”

With students leading the charge on Northwestern’s campus, steps towards acknowledging the past and initiating new conversations have been taken. Yet, broadly, looking at the past with honesty also means reassessing the way education, government and the economy function within American society. It also means addressing the fact that America is a nation built on land stolen from Native American people. Furthermore, it means honoring the past treaties returning land to its rightful owners. 

“If we took Indigenous nationhood and sovereignty and personhood seriously,” Menefee says, “then we would have to deal with the fact that we’re occupying sovereign territory.”

For Ridgley, governmental action is essential for his tribe to heal from the trauma faced by him and his tribal community. 

“The United States of America needs to look at the past with honesty,” says Ridgley. “Not just that, though, [they must take] the responsibility to make amends and honor agreements such as treaties that affect communities of people who are important and represent the foundation in our nation’s history. There is so much that needs to be done. But we have to start somewhere, right?”

Evanston has not dealt with its history of tense Indigenous relations. The city has, however, begun to take steps towards accountability for generations of oppression of Black residents by developing a reparations program in the form of housing grants. This program is the first of its kind in the country, and has the ability to create much needed change for Evanston’s Black community. Yet, the program lacks accountability for the harm that the city has caused to Indigenous communities.

“The reparations policy here is excellent,” Menefee states. “But it’s also interesting because Native people were legally barred from owning property here for a long time too. So that underlying problem is one that [the city] doesn’t seem ready to address.”

For Ridgley, Evanston taking accountability begins with the recognition of John Evans and his involvement with the Sand Creek Massacre.

“For Evanston, (accountability) means coming to terms with the reality of who John Evans was and what he did and what he was involved in,” he says. 

“Ongoing work with state and local governments can continue to give us a bigger voice and recognition of our history. Ultimately, it would mean [coming to terms with] Sand Creek and honoring agreements their ancestors made with our ancestors,” Ridgley continues. 

As a Northwestern student, Twocrow is constantly surrounded by Evans’ history, with the obvious representation of his influence being the John Evans Alumni Center. The controversy of keeping Evans’ name on campus buildings has been the center of many debates surrounding Indigenous activism within the Northwestern community. However, for Twocrow, the university’s top priority needs to be informing its students about its history. 

I think his name should remain on campus so [that] we can force everyone to have conversations about this,” she says. “I wish that Northwestern threw it in your face a little bit more. It’s definitely not something that’s talked about.”

For Evanston, (accountability) means coming to terms with the reality of who John Evans was and what he did and what he was involved in.

— Gail Ridgley

The lack of conversation surrounding Evans as well as Indigenous communities is a part of Evanston’s problematic history and treatment of Native people. For the conversations that do occur publicly, such as during forums, Indigenous voices are rarely prioritized, with white people taking center stage.

 For Menefee, In a country built on genocide and the land of Native people, centering Indigenous voices is a must.

“I think it is very important for people who are white and who are dedicated to decolonization, racial justice, economic justice and making institutions less violent to not be at the center of determining the vision for what that looks like or the most publicly visible for implementing it.”

Healing After Tragedy

Today, Ridgley is an educator, activist, and spokesperson for the descendants of Sand Creek. His past, present and future are intertwined, and his ancestral connections present themselves in every aspect of his life. 

“With Sand Creek, since learning about it in 1993, it changed my life,” he says. “It gave me a new meaning of who I am, where I came from, [and] where I have to go.”

While the past of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes have been incredibly traumatic, these histories have shaped who Ridgley is today. 

   “Sand Creek has been a journey on the historical remembrance, educational awareness, and spiritual healing of our people. That’s the theme that I carry when I talk all the time,” he says.

If Sand Creek can show us anything, it shows the tremendous weight that the past holds. We carry our pasts with us, we carry the pasts of our ancestors. Ridgley and his tribal community hold this weight within their culture and connections.

“Although it’s never easy, we have the stories and memories of our ancestors to guide us. That’s our motivation and brings forth spiritual wealth.”

 “We refuse to be defined by the tragedy and trauma of Sand Creek and other genocides our people have been subjected to.”

Art by Isaac Suarez Flint
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