STATEMENT OF DONALD J. HELLMANN, DEPUTY ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, LEGISLATIVE AND CONGRESSIONAL AFFAIRS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, HISTORIC PRESERVATION AND RECREATION ON S. 2950, TO ESTABLISH THE SAND CREEK MASSACRE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE.

SEPTEMBER 14, 2000

 


Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you to present the position of the Department of the Interior on S. 2950, a bill to establish the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site as a unit of the National Park System.

The Department strongly supports protection of this site through S. 2950 with the amendments outlined in this testimony. We appreciate the continued interest and support of Senator Campbell, and look forward to working with him and the subcommittee to protect this site.

Since the day it happened, the Sand Creek Massacre has been regarded as one of the most emotionally charged and controversial events in American history. On November 29, 1864, Col. John M. Chivington, leading about 700 soldiers of the First and Third Colorado Volunteers, attacked a village of about 500 Cheyenne and Arapaho people. These people were under the overall leadership of Black Kettle, and had camped on Sand Creek at the direction of Major Scott Anthony, who commanded Fort Lyon, about 40 miles to the south. By day's end, the soldiers had killed at least 150 people, including women and children.

The massacre resulted in almost instant controversy, which ultimately led to three federal investigations, all of which condemned Chivington's actions. By the 1865 Treaty of Little Arkansas with the Cheyenne and Arapaho, victims of Sand Creek received minor compensation for their suffering and loss of property. While some efforts were made to understand the massacre, place blame on the responsible parties, and compensate the tribes, little was actually done.

Many people, including Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, visited the site and collected artifacts of all kinds. The land was used for large-scale cattle operations, and eventually small private landowners farmed and grazed the property. As time passed, evidence of the massacre slowly disappeared. Although the event continued to be remembered, mostly by the tribes and historians, the only commemoration of the massacre was a simple granite marker placed near the site by the local community in 1950.

In 1998, P.L. 105-243 authorized the Secretary to identify the location and extent of the Sand Creek Massacre, determine the suitability and feasibility of designating the site as a unit of the National Park System, and present those findings in 18 months.

Starting in 1998 a variety of techniques and methods were used to locate the site of the Sand Creek Massacre. These included a thorough research of written records, archeology, geomorphology, aerial photographic analysis, traditional tribal methods and recording the oral traditions of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, the Northern Cheyenne and the Northern Arapaho.

Once the location of the site was identified, the next task was to determine national significance and suitability and feasibility of the site as a unit of the system. To be eligible for consideration, National Park Service Management Policies state that an area must possess nationally significant natural, cultural or recreational resources; be a suitable and feasible addition to the system; and require direct NPS management instead of protection by some other governmental agency or private sector. The Special Resource Study for the Sand Creek Massacre site, completed in July 2000, concluded that the area is nationally significant.

The Sand Creek Massacre site possesses exceptional value in illustrating and interpreting the history of U.S.-Indian relations in the American West. The massacre at Sand Creek of nearly 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho people who believed they were under the protection of the U.S. Government was a major turning point in the relationship between whites and Indians. Virtually all Indian and army conflicts that ensued were rooted, at least partly, in the massacre.

A National Park System unit at Sand Creek would provide an opportunity for Americans to better understand the significance of the massacre, the chain of events that led to it, the relationship between Indians and whites during the mid-to late-19th Century, the devastating effects of the massacre upon the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples, and its far reaching repercussions, many of which linger today. The site also retains a high degree of physical integrity, and its isolated setting will give visitors an opportunity to contemplate the complexities of the human tragedy that unfolded there.

The Special Resource Study also concluded that Sand Creek is both suitable and feasible as a unit of the National Park System. The site is suitable because it represents a cultural theme that is not already adequately represented in the system. As described on the map referenced in S. 2950, the proposed national historic site is also a feasible addition in that the area taken as a whole is of sufficient size and configuration to ensure long-term resource protection and accommodate public use. As outlined in the Special Resources Study, acquisition of up to 12,480 acres of land and development of the site will cost approximately $13,600,000. The preliminary annual cost of administering the site is approximately $1,260,000.

S. 2950 would authorize the establishment of Sand Creek National Historic Site. The unit would be established once the Secretary of the Interior determines that sufficient lands have been acquired to provide for the protection and commemoration of the Sand Creek Massacre. Lands are identified on a map dated July 1, 2000 and would be acquired through donation, purchase from willing sellers or exchange. Priority for acquisition is given to the site containing the historical marker. Keys to managing the site would be protection of the natural and cultural features that are critical to telling the story of Sand Creek; and cooperation and consultation with the tribes in the development of management plans and educational programs.

S. 2950 calls for the Secretary to consider locating support facilities in Kiowa County. The legislation also contains important provisions that would provide for special needs of the descendants and other members of the identified tribes to access and use federally acquired land for the purpose of traditional, cultural and historical observances, and consultation with respect to commemorative activities. S. 2950 also calls for the dedication of a portion of the site for the purposes of repatriation of human remains.

One of the major strengths of this project has been the extensive consultation and inclusion of the interested individuals and organizations, especially tribes, landowners, the State of Colorado and Kiowa County. A critical result of this effort was the agreement that protection of the site is essential. It is essential in part so that we may all learn how to deepen our understanding of other cultures.

We believe some minor amendments are needed in Sections 8 and 9 that would clarify the intent of the legislation. These sections address the special needs of the descendents and tribal members of those affected by the Sand Creek Massacre. We believe that the two sections should be made consistent with recent Congressional direction regarding reasonable accommodation of the religious and cultural needs of American Indians in units of the National Park System. We would be pleased to provide draft language to that effect.

We also recommend deleting on page 12, line 21, "located in the vicinity of the site", as there are no tribes located in the vicinity of the site.

We look forward to working with the subcommittee and Senator Campbell to ensure that the final bill language protects this important site and the story it has to tell.

That concludes my remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.