Boulder on Sunday welcomed about 100 members of the Southern Arapaho from Oklahoma and the Northern Arapaho from Wyoming to their ancestral Boulder Valley lands.
The Arapaho — including elders, government leaders and youth — spent the day sharing their culture and history through presentations and performances at Boulder High School. The event, now in its second year, is part of Boulder’s Indigenous People’s Day celebration.
“We all can be one,” Chief Elvin Kenrick said. “That’s what our ultimate goal is.”
The event was presented by the Southern and Northern Arapaho tribes and Right Relationship Boulder and supported by Boulder’s Human Relations Commission, the Boulder Arts Commission and the Boulder Valley School District.
“Building a better relationship requires learning the truth, acknowledging the harm and walking together on a path of reconciliation and friendship,” said Jerilyn DeCoteau of Right Relationship Boulder.
Boulder Valley was the winter homeland of Chief Left Hand’s band of Arapaho until 1859, when miners discovered gold in the foothills. The Arapaho, whose name for themselves is Hinó’no’éí, were pushed out of the area.
“When we explain to our people that this is our homeland, we have to explain why we’re not there,” said Billie Sutton, a Southern Arapaho legislator. “It’s not pretty history at all, but it has got to be told so it won’t ever happen again.”
Sunday started with indigenous people gathering to get to know one another, while non-Native people learned tools to be allies in a session led by Colorado State University professor Doreen Martinez.
After lunch, the opening ceremony included a prayer in the Arapaho language by ceremonial elder Nelson White, dancers in Native American regalia and a drum group performing three traditional songs.
Arapaho children also recited the Pledge of Allegiance in the Arapaho language, then performed a hand drum song.
After the performances, local officials and Arapaho leaders talked about the partnerships they’ve formed.
The Boulder Valley School District is working with native people to add their history and stories to the curriculum. Boulder County is using grant money to incorporate native history in open space programs, while Lafayette dedicated 2.5 acres of open space to indigenous peoples.
Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones said the city benefited directly from the tribes being forced from their land. Now, she said, the city is committed to listening and learning, including discussing with tribal leaders how they could more formally use city open space.
“While we can’t go back to undo this history, much as we all might want to, we are all committed to acknowledging this history,” she said. “Elected leaders will come and go. We hope these relationships will continue to deepen and endure.”
Afternoon workshops included youth “hand games” and Arapaho language lessons; presentations on jewelry, film and horse culture; a question-and-answer session with Arapaho elders; and a market.
Boulder and Denver are among a growing number of cities that observe Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day. The Boulder City Council unanimously approved Indigenous Peoples Day in August 2016.
Nikhil Mankekar, chairman of Boulder’s Human Relations Commission, said one of the original goals of declaring a Boulder Indigenous Peoples Day was to support a legislative effort for a statewide day.
“As the size and scale of our local event grows, we’re in a better position to advocate for a state Indigenous Peoples Day,” he said. “We want to keep the momentum going and build more community support.”
Kayik Wildcat, a senior at Boulder’s Fairview High School and member of the American Indian Youth Leadership Institute, also wants to see a state day.
“Having Boulder start an Indigenous Peoples Day is a good first step,” he said. “It’s what we need. We want to bring unity and awareness of each other and each other’s issues. We want to work together.”