recognizing the impacts of settler colonialism is a core part of teaching and promoting nature-based skills

Quite early on in our journeys with nature-connection work, especially in the role of instructors and facilitators, we realized that it was impossible for us to separate a critique of the European colonization of this land with teaching nature-based skills while occupying this land, and we have often been uncomfortable in situations where this connection is not acknowledged. Many of the skills and crafts we teach have cultural roots all over the world, but nonetheless the fact that land-based peoples were so recently and massively displaced on this continent and are a common touchstone and inspiration for many Westerners in regard to survival skills and bushcraft means that there is an obvious psychological and cultural connection that often gets ignored and becomes "the elephant in the room." The first step is acknowledging the elephant.

Just like with naturalism and ecological literacy, we consider ourselves life long students of how to honor the cultural history of this land as well as the living cultures that have been displaced here. For us, cultural humility in regard to First Nations peoples is an integral part and natural extension of the "situational awareness" that is so upheld in teaching many different nature-based skills. Situational awareness extends to awareness of our own ancestors as well as to awareness of the ancestors of this land. We are always looking for and open to ways of better accomplishing this and in no way want to portray ourselves as 'experts' or as 'having the answers.'

The people of this land

Contrary to popular stories about the intermountain West being sparsely inhabited or unmarked wilderness when Europeans arrived here, humans have inhabited Colorado’s Front Range for thousands of years. One of the oldest archaeological sites in Colorado is in Weld County, near the town of Milliken. Stone Clovis points and mammoth bones between 11,000 and 12,000 years old were found here in the 1930’s, providing some of the earliest evidence of mammoth hunting in North America.

The Front Range was a home and crossroads for many tribes, including the Ute people, the Apache, Comanche, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. The Ute, Arapaho, and Cheyenne seemed to be the tribes that had the most regular presence here (in the Boulder area) around the time of European colonization. Based on the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, these lands were promised to several tribes including the Cheyenne and Arapaho, but the discovery of gold in the Rockies only a few years later caused settlers to continue to illegally occupy and exploit these lands, disregarding the treaty. Eventually a new treaty called the Treaty of Fort Wise was imposed by the U.S. government that many native plains people considered illegitimate and coercive. By many this land is considered unceded indigenous territory.

Sand Creek Massacre

In 1864, companies from the Colorado Cavalry (U.S. Army) attacked a peaceful encampment of Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho people in Fort Lyon, despite the encampment flying an American and a white flag to show that they were friendly. Tensions had been rising between native people and settlers, and the encampment had been promised to plains people as a safe haven by the Colorado governor. There have been many different reports of how many native people were killed, but several estimates report similar numbers of between 100 and 150, many of whom were women and children.

The massacre was investigated by the military as well as by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of War. They found that Colonel Chivington, who had ordered the initial unprovoked attack, was responsible for murdering, "in cold blood, the unsuspecting men, women, and children on Sand creek, who had every reason to believe they were under the protection of the United States authorities." Although the panel recommended punishment to all responsible, no concrete forms of punishment were ever imposed.

A formal apology was only issued by the Colorado governor in 2014, 150 years after the massacre. Through a series of revoked promises and "renegotiated" treaties, the U.S. has failed to respect the land and sovereignty rights of plains people. Land promised to the Cheyenne and Arapaho has been shrunken and relocated, to the point where their territories were completely displaced and reservations assigned to locations in Oklahoma and Wyoming. Today, there is very little representation of this area's indigenous history, despite Boulder being often represented as a socially progressive and spiritually conscious place.

Valmont Butte

Valmont Butte is a rocky hill in what is now Boulder, Colorado that functioned as a vital and sacred cultural site for the Ute and Arapaho people who lived here. It was a staging area for communal Antelope Hunts, and was also used as burial grounds. Today, due to settler imposed mining and industry, it is a superfund site contaminated with radioactive waste.

further reading

Southern Arapahos are Part of Boulder's Spirit - By Judy Mattivi Morley

Valmont Butte Colonization Timeline - Boulder Weekly

The Ghosts of Valmont Butte - Boulder Weekly

Ute Culturally Scarred Trees - Pikes Peak Historical Society

Sand Creek Massacre Devastates Tribes, Intensifies Warfare - by Carol Berry, Indian Country Media Network

Un-Civil War: When North Fought South, it was Indians Who Lost - by Patti Jo King, Indian Country Media Network

Remember the Sand Creek Massacre - by Ned Blackhawk, The New York Times