Following more than a year of discussion with the tribe, county commissioners said they were grateful to improve on a relationship that had not been reaffirmed for about 20 years, according to county staff.
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Arapahoe County commissioners on June 28 signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with representatives from the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming, pledging to better educate county residents about the area's earlier inhabitants and serve as stronger advocates for Native issues.
“We’ve been wanting to establish better ties with descendants of our area’s original inhabitants for some time, and this agreement increases communication and offers more opportunities for all of us to work together on any number of issues,” said Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Jackson.
The MOA seeks to broaden the scope of the county's outreach, education and advocacy efforts with the tribe. The binding document will help "educate the citizens of Arapahoe County about the Arapahoe and Cheyenne peoples' living history and culture," the MOA reads.
The signing comes nearly 158 years after the infamous Sand Creek Massacre during which Colorado troops killed an estimated 150 members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes in what is now Kiowa County.
In 1878, the Northern Arapaho were forced to move from their native land in Colorado to the Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming. Today, around 10,000 members live on the reservation with members of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.
According to the MOA, Arapahoe County will establish regular events and commemorations relating to the massacre including participating in the annual Sand Creek Massacre Healing Run later this year.
The run, which stretches 180 miles, seeks to commemorate the victims and survivors of the massacre.
Other pledges in the MOA include increasing awareness and education of Northern Arapaho culture, historical events and current issues, respectful representation of the tribe in print, digital and visual contexts, publicizing tribal issues in the county and creating a process to invite tribal members to appropriate county events and ceremonies.
Representatives from both the county and tribe plan to meet at least once every year, according to the MOA.
Following the MOA's signing, the county held a flag-raising ceremony outside its administrative building in Littleton.
Tribal elder Ben Ridgley, speaking during the ceremony, said it was "an honor to be here to do this historical signing."
“We know from our oral histories that this is our ancestral land, and also our homeland, so it’s very meaningful to be here at this moment," Ridgley said.
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