by William Walks Along, Northern Cheyenne, Sand Creek Massacre Descendant
October 5, 2022
Peva-Wo-Nah, good morning, to all here with us at this momentous occasion at Sand Creek. Today’s expansion of the Sand Creek Massacre Historical site by an additional 3,478 acres marks another historical milestone. One that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. I am honored to speak on behalf of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana.
My name is William Walks Along and I am the Tribal Administrator for my nation. Throughout my life, I have served in numerous capacities, including, President, Vice-President and Tribal Council member over the past thirty years.
In this time, I have witnessed and participated in the numerous and significant events that led to the eventual creation and establishment of the Sand Creek Massacre Site as a unit of the National Park Service in 2000, while opening in April of 2007.
Our gathering today is reminder that I am still walking along a path of forgiveness, both in a political and tribal context. Forgiveness is an act that joins moral truth, forbearance, empathy, and commitment to repair a fractured human relation.
I have come to believe and understand that the acknowledgment of fellow humanity lays a groundwork for both construction and repair of all human community. In this instance, I speak of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Nations, communities that preceded the creation of the State of Colorado and the United States of America.
I have thought deeply about what happened to our people almost 160 years ago on the “killing fields” here at Sand Creek. What is etched is my mind, and will never go away, is the story that our people were told that they would be safe if they flew an American flag and white flag of truce.
I howled like a wounded animal the first time I set foot on this village site that was property owned by our countryman Bill Dawson. I did not even recognize my own voice.
I was aware of the story of a number of terrified Cheyenne women who had taken cover in a teepee during the slaughter. They sent a little girl no more than four or five-years-old to plead for their lives.
My daughter, Mamie, was 5 years old when I first went to Sand Creek.
They thought the soldiers would have mercy, but a soldier shot her in the head at close range.
Humans can be cruel and do horrific things to other humans.
My friend and former Colorado Senator, Ben Nighthorse Campbell called what happened here “demon evil.” Being here that first time, I made a lifelong commitment along with my brothers, Steve and Luke Brady, Otto Braidedhair, Lee Lonebear, and Mildred Red Cherries—a courageous Cheyenne woman—to help advance our advocacy to protect and preserve the Sand Creek Massacre site.
Others in our family of Indian Nations have done the same. All committed to continue to seek total justice for our relatives that perished senselessly here in our own ancestral homeland.
We held discussions with Mr. Dawson and US government officials. We shared the oral histories passed down to us about the village site located here. Applicable federal government policy, we were told, did not recognize oral tribal history as factual or verifiable information. The village must be identified by scientific and historical methods.
Hence, the Sand Creek Massacre Study Act of 1996 was passed. Steve Brady, Dr. David Halas and I testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to plead and request for the American Government to grant passage of this vital study act. With little or no resources, we engaged with high level federal officials, congressmen, state and county officials, along with our relatives in the Northern Arapaho and Cheyenne/Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.
Each year our tribal nations join together for an annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run. Prayer and ceremony to help us on our unified efforts for justice and to restore dignity to this site where our loved ones spilled their blood.
When the Massacre Site was officially identified a tremendous milestone was achieved. This was followed by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma arranging for the purchase of the land where the village was located. Thank you, brothers and sisters, for your gracious gift. One that is priceless.
Legislation to establish this tragic site as a unit of the National Park Service was incredible and struck me as an awesome accomplishment on my personal path to forgiveness and quieting of my mind. I was invited at that time to speak at the dedication of this National Park Service managed site.
Steve Brady asked me to address the Cheyenne perspective as it relates to the Sand Creek Massacre site.
I told the crowd assembled that day that the tribal elders I visited with still saw the Europeans, people from across the big waters, as intruders. They were countless numbers of them and they had overwhelming military strength.
We had to make room for them. Their miners, ranchers, farmers, shop keepers, railroad men others have put down roots in this country.
Today, I see the United States and others making honorable efforts to restore the dignity of our people and the sacred ground we call the Sand Creek Massacre Historic Site.
There are no treaties that stipulate or direct such efforts with our Indian Nations; there are honorable human beings with compassion and respect. There are honorable human beings that know that the story of the Sand Creek Massacre must be told and this hallowed ground must be preserved and protected.
I want to thank all who have participated in helping to protect and expand the Sand Creek Massacre Historic Site.
On that cold day in November of 1864, our people fought and ran for their lives on this very ground.
I know our Cheyenne and Arapaho people have a sense of an eternal responsibility to let all human beings who are willing to listen know that our people who suffered and died here are not forgotten. Nor have they been tossed on the “scrap heap of history” as some have wanted our history to be.
They are loved. Their descendants “continue on,” retaining our languages, culture and way of life. And so, it shall always be.
Images by Billy J. Stratton, gathered at Sand Creek in October 2022.
William Walks Along is a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, holding a bachelor’s degree from Montana State University and a master’s degree from Washington State University, and currently works as a tribal government administrator. He has served over the last thirty years in numerous leadership positions in the Northern Cheyenne Nation’s Tribal Council, including terms as President and Vice President, while also working as Acting Director of the Northern Cheyenne Natural Resources Department. Walks Along is a Sand Creek Massacre descendent and has long worked to promote justice, remembrance, and healing from this horrific crime. He was a key participant in the U.S. Senate hearings for the Sand Creek Massacre Site Study Act of 1998, sponsored by Colorado Senator and fellow Northern Cheyenne tribal member, Ben Nighthorse Campbell and was an honored guest at the White House when President William J. Clinton signed this vitally important legislation into law. He continues to speak and share stories of healing on the subject of Sand Creek and was an honored speaker at the ceremony marking the designation of the location of the massacre as a national historic site by the National Park Service. To this day, Sand Creek remains the only such massacre site to achieve this recognition.