Sunday, November 3, 2013

A visit to Northwestern



I was honored and delighted this week to be at Northwestern. I was invited by Professor Gary Alan Fine, an Evans professor and a sociologist at Northwestern to speak to three of his classes this past Tuesday on reputations and historical memory about John Evans. The gathering united freshman, undergraduates and graduate students, and provided many striking questions (I spoke for about 25 minutes, and spent an hour answering these questions. I will soon put up a link to the tape).

Entering Evanston was disturbing (I also just went for a retreat with faculty and students going to Dharmasala this winter at a DU experimental station on...Mount Evans). I spoke in University Hall, finished in 1869 - see the photograph - for which Evans, in 1862, was one of the main contributors…

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Among the Evans professors at Northwestern and DU, Fine has most quickly discovered the story and acted to bring home the dishonor of naming a distinguished professorship for an ethnic cleanser. At Northwestern, the custom is for each new Evans Professor to give a lecture. Fine, who had known nothing of Evans previously, checked into him on google and discovered the story of the Sand Creek massacre. So he gave a talk to faculty members and administrators about Evans’s role in genocide, which disquieted the administrators...

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As the new book by Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony & Ivy, indicates, slavery and the slave trade were ingredient to forming not only Brown University, as Ruth Simmons, the President, courageously caused to be investigated - see here, and here - but to Harvard and Columbia (then King's College), among others. Wilder began researching University connections to the slave trade 10 years ago, and found that William and Mary alone in the South but 9 universities in what was to become the North were created on bondage, the slave trade and "ministering" to indigenous people (the twin genocides have long been intertwined; they split, to some extent, in the North during the Revolution and in the two aspects of the Union side in the Civil War).

Gradual emancipation occurred in the North during and after the American Revolution, as my Black Patriots and Loyalists shows, only because of a vast movement, led by poor sailors, black and white, and fighting for abolition, which shaped every revolutionary crowd. This movement emerged particularly in protests against press-gangs, which had seized or enslaved people off the streets to be sailors, and included demonstrations such as the Boston Tea Party in which many favored abolition. This fighting in the Revolution began to disrupt the pattern Wilder traces.

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But since there is so much yet to be unearthed about slavery as Wilder's book shows (he also testifies how many librarians and others, including University Presidents as at Dartmouth, helped and embraced him), the slowness at Universities to take in the horrors of ethnic cleansing is not unusual. On these latter horrors, there are no Arapahoes in Arapaho County because John Evans targeted the Arapahoes and Cheyennes who wanted to make peace. He worked very closely with General Chivington who in winter - "my time" as Evans called it - committed the Sand Creek Massacre to drive these tribes out of Colorado. Many Universities and Boards of Trustees and some older alumni have some economic and\or more sharply, an intellectual stake in racist misconceptions about the origins of their institutions. They want the history to go away: hence, the need for a founding amnesia.

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But there is no way forward to a more mutually recognizing and democratic society unless Universities (and cities) stop naming themselves for racists, rename some memorials, create some new ones acknowledging the horrors at their founding, and take steps - including recruiting more indigenous students - to acknowledge these wrongs.

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Here is the striking beginning of Wilder's interview with Amy Goodman on DemocracyNow:

"GOODMAN: So, talk about America’s most elite universities. What relation do they have to slavery?

CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: I think there are multiple relationships. The first and probably most poignant, most provocative, is the relationship to the slave trade itself. In the middle of the 18th century, from 1746 to 1769—fewer than 25 years, less than a quarter century—the number of colleges in the British colonies triples from three to nine. The original three were Harvard, Yale and William & Mary, and all of a sudden there were nine by 1769. And it triples in that 25-year period. That 25-year period actually coincides with the height of the slave trade. It’s precisely the rise and the elaboration of the Atlantic economy, based on the African slave trade, that allows for this sort of fantastic articulation of new growth of the institutional infrastructure of the colonies.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk specifically about particular universities.

CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you are—you do look at some universities in the South—

CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: Mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: —but also in the Deep North.

CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Harvard.

CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: It’s a very Northern story, actually. You know, when you think about the colonial world, until the American Revolution, there’s actually only one college in the South: William & Mary. There are a couple of other attempts, but they fail. The other eight colleges are all Northern schools. And they’re actually located in key sites, for the most part, of the merchant economy and where the slave traders had sort of come to power and rose as the sort of financial and intellectual backers of the new culture of the colonies."

***

Wilder also traces the experimentation with skeletons and skulls to Eleazar Wheelock, a doctor and President of Dartmouth boiling the corpse of a "Cato" to have the skeleton. While the role of genocide against blacks was less prominent than the 20,000 skulls of indigenous people - murdered, heads cut off, "skinned" and sent to the Smithsonian - see here - it was still very considerable. Pseudoscience (phrenology, anthropometry, I.Q. testing) as well as "medical" experimentation was built into eugenics here and in Germany:

"And one of the ugliest aspects of that is the use of marginalized people in the Americas, in the United States—its enslaved black people, often Native Americans, and sometimes the Irish—for experimentation, the bodies that were accessible as science rose. And science is rising in the 18th century in part by turning dissection and anatomy into the new medical arts. But that requires bodies. It requires people. In the British islands, that means you’re often exploiting Ireland. In North America, it means you’re often taking advantage of people who have no legal and moral protection upon their bodies: the enslaved.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you give an example?

CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: Sure. Actually, at Dartmouth, the medical college—it would be unfair to say that the medical college begins with this moment, but the teaching of science in Hanover begins when the physician to the president, the founder of Dartmouth, Eleazar Wheelock, drags the body of an enslaved black man, who is deceased, named Cato, to the back of his house and boils that body in an enormous pot to free up the skeleton, to wire it up for instruction. That act is not unusual. In fact, when the first medical colleges are established in North America in the 1760s—the first is at the College of Philadelphia, which is now the University of Pennylvania, and the second is at King’s College, which is now Columbia—when those institutions are founded, actually, they’re founded in part—part of what allows them to be established is access to corpses, access to people to experiment upon. And, in fact, it’s precisely the enslaved, the unfree and the marginalized who get forcibly volunteered for that role." See here.

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What I call Founding Amnesias are central to the origins of Universities as well as the country, to the rooting of American freedoms and education in bondage and ethnic cleansing. The slowness of the University of Denver - now being corrected in the light of the University's 150th anniversary and the 150th year since the Sand Creek massacre - and Northwestern is not so much greater than that of the East Coast universities as Wilder shows.

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Now the military pattern for the Sand Creek Massacre was set by the Bear River massacre in what is now Oregon two years before. There General Patrick Connor launched a surprise attack on an encampment of Shoshones during the winter (the leaders were off trying to negotiate a peace agreement). In what would become the typical ethnic cleansing action of the US army, Connor’s troops slaughtered a large number of people, mainly women, children and the elderly.

This pattern for winter war was carried out by Kit Carson in New Mexico and especially by Chivington and Evans at Sand Creek. The only difference here is that the people who settled at Sand Creek under the protection of Major Wynkoop and the treacherous Major Scott Anthony at Fort Lyon, were determinedly peaceful...

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During the summer, the indigenous people of the Plains were often able to attack and defeat an American army which had set out to slaughter them, and were, in any case, elusive. In the winter, they needed a food supply and had to camp near it in the snows. If they could be found, they could be attacked. As Elliott West, one of the main historians of 19th century Colorado pointed out to me, the reason that the Plains tribes could be wiped out in a second Civil War of genocide (1862-76) was thus winter warfare (the US army was attacking indigenous people in the previous 10 years in the West, so the whole war was roughly 25 years of externmination and cordoning off those left on reservations/concentration camps.

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At the Camp Weld meeting in Denver, Territorial Governor John Evans named this approach as his own signature initiative while Major John Chivington listened. Evans had not wanted to come to this meeting; he had been argued into it by Major Edward Wynkoop. Wynkoop had retrieved 7 white prisoners from Black Kettle – Wynkoop had come “through the fire” as he and other officers, among the 140 men who went from Fort Lyon and were surrounded by 2,000 Cheyenne and Arapahoes felt, and Black Kettle and other leaders had journeyed with him "through a fire," "through a cloud" (Black Kettle's and Bull Bear's words) to hostile Denver, wanting to make peace.

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Here are Evans's words which Chivington would carry out on November 29, 1864:

"The time when you can make war best, is in the summer time; when I can make war best, is in the winter. You, so far have had the advantage; my time is just coming." See here.

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West spoke of the 250 year cleansing by the United States government in the East and South against tribes much less able to fight, much less experienced in guerrilla warfare and not on horseback compared to a 25 year genocide against the Plains Indians who were much more elusive and tactically clever. Winter massacres were the secret.

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Evans had sent out his August 11 proclamation, urging friendly indicans to come in. See here. He sought to divide friendly from hostile Indians, therefore limiting the general Indian war which he imagined, in a panic about "helplessness," for higher officials was then occurring.

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But he blocked Wynkoop who had to argue with him to make peace with the Colorado plains Indians. Evans spoke insistently of winter as “my time” to make war.

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It is this quote and his attitude toward these native Americans in Colorado – rightly judged by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the Civil War to be the ones among all the tribes most determined to come in peacefully at Evans' request, who went to Fort Lyon to settle near Wynkoop at Chivington’s urging at this meeting, turned in what weapons they had, received rations from the Fort, obeyed Major Scott Anthony (when Wynkoop was replaced through the machinations of others with General Curtis) – which reveals Evans' intent to commit genocide. See here.

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In a retrospective interview with H.H. Bancroft in 1884 (p. 21), Evans said:

“So the benefit of that massacre to the people of Colorado was very great for it ridded the plains of the Indians for there was a sentiment that the Indians ought not to be left in the midst of the community. It relieved us very much of the roaming tribes of Indians.”

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Evans also wrote a letter to General Curtis on July 16,1864:

"It is important that Colonel Chivington operate with his command on these infernal Indians."

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In combination with Evans' constant contact with Chivington - some twenty telegrams in July and early August, joint members in the Republican party with the better connected Evans as the leader, joint actions as Methodists and at the Colorado Seminary which became DU and Iliff, they were in constant communication. If Chivington was in your face about wanting to become Major General, Evans was a careful figure, wanting stealth and plausible deniability (h\t Jeff Campbell).

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Chivington was part of a coterie of figures in Colorado who looked up to and worked under the leadership of Evans. Another was Simeon Whiteley, a political campaigner for Evans in Illinois, who worked as an Indian agent under his leadership in Colorado (I have now studied Whiteley's papers at the Newberry Library in Chicago and they are full of admiration for, allegiance to Evans).

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So the excuse for Evans, that he left Colorado 13 days before the massacre, and that he was intent on general war on the Plains, not war against the peaceful indians in Colorado, the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, does not seem to me to be very plausible.

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Gary Fine, however, provided a document which is also interesting as to Evans purposes as an ethnic cleanser or "exterminator" regardless of whether he planned Sand Creek - what I think the evidence above points to - or whether he enabled it (the Camp Weld meting establishes the latter). Even if one takes Sand Creek as a rogue action by Chivington, for which Evans had just prepared the way and the defended with false claims about a general Indian war (the massacre produced such a war; there was no such war when Evans panicked about it to higher federal officials from November 11, 1863 on). General Patrick Connor, the author of the Bear River massacre of the Shoshone came to Colorado at the behest of a railway owner disturbed at the Plains indians, wanting to keep their land and hunt buffalo, attacking the railways. Here is what Evans wrote to Connor in a single letter of October 24, 1864, which Gary Fine gave me a copy of. "Chastise" is an awful word Evans used repeatedly for the extermination of women, children and the elderly:

"I am glad that you are coming. I have no doubt the Indians may be chastised during the winter, which they very much need. Bring all the forces you can: then pursue, kill and destroy them, until which we will have no permanent peace on the plain.

John Evans"

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At minimum or as I think a matter of consensus among all of us who are researching this, Evans was an "Exterminator" against the "roaming" Plains indians. He was thus an enabler of Sand Creek.

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Beyond this, there is evidence, some of which I have cited here, that Evans authored Sand Creek (he left the state 13 days before the Massacre, intent on striking on Colorado, but aware that there was widespread opposition against officers like Wynkoop and many at Fort Lyon to such a strike. For this reason - to prevent officer opposition - Chivington surrounded Fort Lyon to prevent anyone from notifying the peaceful Indians. The Cheyennes and Arapahoes had saved the lives of many of these same officers when they went to retrieve 7 white prisoners; they knew these indigenous people were at peace. Thus, Silas Soule, Joseph Cramer, Lieutenant Chauncey Cossitt and Lieutenant James Cameron spoke out fiercely against the secret slaughter; hence, Chivington swore: "Damn any man who is a friend to an Indian."

So I am currently evaluating this stronger hypothesis: that Chivington is blamed as a "rogue," but in fact, attention should be focused on John Evans; that the Sand Creek massacre, part of the ethnic cleansing of the West, emerged from Bear Creek, was mirrored in Custer's slaughter of peaceful Indians along the Washita River in Oklahoma, and the like.

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But the minimum or consensus hypothesis, which includes the general point about exterminating indigenous people in the West, is, of course, awful enough.

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At Northwestern, I also met Heather Menefee and Forrest Bruce, two leaders of the Native American and indigenous students alliance (NAISA) which admirably continues to raise the issue of Evans and the need for Native American Studies at Northwestern (the Northwestern administration just announced the creation of a second committee to deal with this). It is time sharply to change the atmosphere on campus about this founding amnesia - see here - or founding genocide.

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University of Denver professor discusses John Evans
By Lauren Lindstrom, Mitchell Caminer11:06 p.m. Oct. 29 2013

For the photo, see here.

Photo by Gabe Bergado / North by Northwestern

Dr. Alan Gilbert, an international studies professor at the University of Denver, spoke to students Tuesday. Gilbert is a John Evans Professor, the highest faculty distinction at the University of Denver, and serves on the university's committee to investigate Evans’ involvement in the Sand Creek Massacre. Evans helped found DU in 1864 during his term as territorial governor of Colorado, a position he resigned from in 1865.

“John Evans was the founder of the University of Denver,” Gilbert said. “He and [Army Col.] John Chivington and [Walter Newton Byers] the editor of the Rocky Mountain News were on the original board of the Colorado Seminary, which became the University of Denver.”

In addition to founding DU, Evans was one of Northwestern’s co-founders – eventually becoming the namesake of Evanston – and served as the University’s first president of the Board of Trustees. Chivington ordered the Sand Creek Massacre, which resulted in the deaths of more than 120 unarmed Cheyenne and Arapaho people. Earlier this year, Northwestern created a committee to investigate whether Evans was actively involved in this decision as well.

Following Northwestern’s announcement of a committee to investigate Evans, DU formed its own committee consisting of faculty members, graduate students, representatives from the Native Student Alliance and Arapaho and Cheyenne community representatives. Gilbert said the two committees are in close collaboration with one another, and members of both committees visited the Sand Creek site.

“We’re having descendants of the Cheyenne [and Arapahoe} come once a quarter,” Gilbert said. “We’re running ideas by them and talking with them.”

Gilbert said historians are split over whether Evans had an active role in ordering the massacre. Through extensive research with the committee, Gilbert said he concluded that Evans acted deliberately.

“The crucial point is that he targeted these Indians in Colorado, which he did to further the railways,” Gilbert said. “Evans was the mafia boss out here and did this. The argument he really wasn’t aware of it supposes that he was not very bright.”

The DU committee will present two reports in June 2014: one describing Evans’ involvement in the Sand Creek Massacre and how he may have profited from seizing indigenous land and a second prescribing recommendations for the DU community to adopt. Like DU, Northwestern’s committee will present its own research findings in June.

“We have the liveliest conversation, and I think the spirit of the university is behind doing something about this, something honorable,” Gilbert said.

Gabe Bergado contributed reporting.

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Below is a memo from the Presidnt and the Provost of Northwestern setting up a second committee on Evans to take action to correct the long historical dishonoring of indigenous people. Congratulations to NAISA (the Native American and Indigenous Students Alliance), Gary Fine, and everyone else who has made this step possible:

"From: Morton O. Schapiro
Sent: Friday, November 01, 2013 11:54 AM
Subject: Second John Evans committee to be formed; nominations sought

The committee studying the history of John Evans, one of Northwestern’s founders, in regard to his involvement in the Sand Creek Massacre and his relationship with Northwestern, recently held an open forum on the Evanston campus. We appreciate the comments of the members of the Northwestern community who attended that event and those of the committee members. It was both a thoughtful and thought-provoking meeting and we learned a great deal from the comments of those who attended the event.

The study committee has been charged with providing a report by June 2014, at which time another group would then be asked to make recommendations on what actions the University should take as a result of the report. The question of John Evans’ complicity in the Sand Creek Massacre is, as the study committee pointed out at the forum, a complex one, and we appreciate the diligence with which the committee is conducting its inquiry. Regardless of the findings of the committee, however, we believe that there are things that Northwestern University can do now to make the University a more welcoming place for Native Americans.

Some of those efforts are already underway, such as increasing our admissions recruiting efforts and having a more visible presence with Native American groups in the Chicago area. But there undoubtedly are other things that Northwestern can consider. Therefore, we will move forward with the formation of the second committee so it can begin its important work now.

We invite nominations from the Northwestern community for people to serve on the committee. The group will be asked to make recommendations for ways that Northwestern can define more clearly the University’s relationships with Native Americans in the areas of academic programs, admissions, support services, and civic engagement and partnerships, as well as respond to the recommendations of the study committee. We have asked Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs, and Phil Harris, a vice-chair of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees, to co-chair the committee.

Nominations for persons with expertise or interest in the areas noted above should be sent to Patricia Telles-Irvin at vpsa@northwestern.edu. We are confident that this group will provide thoughtful counsel that will assist Northwestern in determining what initiatives the University should take in regard to its relationship with Native Americans.

Morton Schapiro
President and Professor

Dan Linzer
Provost"

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"Professor: NU founder committed “worst act of genocide" in US history
By Matthew Zellner 9:50 p.m. May 6 2012

Statesman or Murderer?

John Evans was serving as governor of the Colorado Territory on November 29th, 1864 – the day Colonel John Chivington and 700 militiamen descended on the Native Americans at Sand Creek. It’s well know that Evans was not a supporter of Native Americans (he once invited white settlers to “kill and destroy all...hostile Indians”); however, many sources disagree on the extent to which John Evans was involved in the Sand Creek Massacre.

The History Channel's This Day in History holds that Evans set up the conditions for the massacre by forcing all peaceful Native Americans in the eastern Colorado Territory to move to a reservation at Sand Creek, while at the same time creating a militia, headed by Chivington, to combat hostile Native Americans.

As the enlistment period of his soldiers neared its end, and about to pass without action, the History Channel says Chivington seemed to “have become almost insane in his desire to kill Indians.” He even supposedly proclaimed, "I long to be wading in gore!" at a dinner party. Soon, Chivington decided that the Sand Creek Reservation would be an easy target, as it no longer mattered to him “whether he killed peaceful or hostile Indians.”

Archaeology Magazine places most of the blame on Chivington, mentioning that the “Fighting Parson” as he was called, was “already on record as saying his mission in life was ‘to kill Indians.” Colorado’s state archives mention that Evans was out of the territory when the attack occurred.

A small group of students and faculty gathered on the lower level of Harris Hall on Friday evening to attend the first meeting of the Northwestern University Memory Project and discuss the question, “Who was John Evans and what now?”

The Northwestern University Memory Project is a new initiative of the NU Native American and Indigenous Student Association that, according to its website, “is dedicated to raising awareness about Evans’ role in the Sand Creek Massacre, and ensuring that these events are not written out of history.”

Weinberg junior Adam Mendel, the NU-NAISA member who proposed the NU Memory Project, set the tone of the meeting with his introduction.

“It’s come to my attention that John Evans, who was the founder of this school, was not really a great guy at all,” Mendel said. He then introduced Evans by reading a biography provided by the Northwestern Alumni Association.

Mendel noted that the biography praised Evans for numerous accomplishments, including “starting the first hospital in Chicago,” while leaving off any mention of Evan’s involvement in the Sand Creek Massacre.

After reading a graphic account of the Massacre, in which 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho people, including “old men, women, and children” were killed by the Colorado Territory militia, Mendel explained that “[Evans’s] policies directly influenced and lead” to the event at Sand Creek.

Although it is debated exactly what role Evans played in the Massacre (see sidebar), Gary Alan Fine, the John Evans professor of sociology and author of the book Difficult Reputations: Collective Memories of the Evil, Inept, and Controversial strongly agreed with Mendel.

Evans was “morally and politically responsible for the single worst act of genocide in American history,” said Fine.

Fine compared the situation the discovery of the Brown family’s involvement in the slave trade at Brown University. Unlike Brown University, however, NU has done nothing address Evan’s acts, he said.

“We have a University that refused to disavow his actions though they were known,” said Fine.

Fine acknowledged that part of the problem was a lack of awareness of Sand Creek on campus. He recounted not knowing about Evans when he was appointed to his namesake professorship.

“I asked myself, who is he?” said Fine, “No one seemed to know.”

Weinberg junior Paul Jackson, who has been involved in many of the diversity discussions during the past week, agreed that getting the word out about Evan’s history was essential.

“If you don’t know John Evans,” said Jackson, “then you don’t know what’s wrong with what John Evans did.”

To address the lack of awareness on campus, Mendel lead the group in brainstorming possible ways to publicize the Memory Project, including renaming the John Evans Alumni Center and filling Deering Meadow with crosses to represent the victims of the Massacre. Mendel plans to further develop the ideas at future Memory Project meetings.

“We need to make sure Sand Creek is not written out of history,” said Mendel, “You can’t move forward unless you accept your past and grow from it.”

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posted on OCTOBER 25, 2013 by NORTHWESTERNPROTEST
"Northwestern Community Members Disappointed by Johns Evans Committee’s Purpose in Investigation

Graphics by Alissa Zhu

Wednesday night, over a hundred people crowded into the Forum room in the Main Library, with students and faculty alike spilling into the aisles. Their gazes were turned to the panel appointed to unwrap a 148-year-old mystery.

John Evans, whose name graces Northwestern’s alumni building and even the city of Evanston itself, is connected with the bloody deaths of over one hundred innocent Native Americans in the Sand Creek Massacre.

The forum’s purpose was to discuss the plans of the John Evans Committee that includes Provost Daniel Linzer and four Northwestern scholars.


The committee was formed in response to a petition submitted by the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance (NAISA) last year.

Linzer explained that the university created the John Evans Committee in order to bring “truth and reconciliation” to the Northwestern community. The first of the two-part investigation is charged with researching John Evan’s life and connection with the Sand Creek Massacre.

“This is about how we tell the story of John Evans in relation to Northwestern. The scholarly committee looking as subjectively as possible at what had occurred and understanding that in a factual way,” said Linzer.

This statement didn’t sit well with several audience members as they brought up their concerns about the underrepresentation of native and indigenous voices in the broader historical narrative.

“I don’t hear the story of the people that suffered. Did you hear the story of the families? The rest of the people didn’t hear it. It was horrible. I can’t even tell you myself. People need to know,” said an audience member on the verge of tears.

Tension at the public forum stemmed from a disagreement about what the John Evans Committee’s role should be.

“The scholars have an important job to get the facts straight but most of it seems organized around the very specific question of John Evan’s involvement. It seems to be based on already euro-centric sources of information in already published accounts and it would be in the interest of reconciliation to involve other voices. Voices of the community who remember the stories,” said Rachel Webster, an English professor.

“I don’t think they were really listening to what we wanted. I wasn’t expecting it to be as confrontational they got really defensive when people criticized the number of native people on the committee and the scope of looking at both sides of the story.” said Forrest Bruce, the co-president of NAISA.

NAISA circulated a petition around campus last December that called for the creation of a Native American Studies Program, the building of a memorial honoring those who were killed at Sand Creek and active recruitment of Native American students to Northwestern, amongst other things.

Bruce said NAISA was disappointed to hear how the university administration interpreted their petition. Whereas the university created a committee that is focused solely on researching John Evans’s role in the massacre, NAISA wanted the school to take action and open dialogue about broader racial and ethnic tensions in the community.

'Not enough attention is given to ethnic issues. Even when they give attention it’s very haphazard. They should have addressed it by starting Native recruitment programs other than going through the whole process of having to prove John Evans role in the massacre. They almost seemed like they didn’t care they just wanted to appease everyone and quiet everyone down without addressing the problem,' said Bruce."

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the Daily Northwestern > Campus > Administration > John Evans Study Committee offers first opportunity for public feedback

Ebony Calloway/The Daily Northwestern

The John Evans Study Committee meets Wednesday for an open forum in the University Library about its research on John Evans and his role in the Sand Creek Massacre. The committee plans to release its findings by June 2014.
TYLER PAGER, REPORTER
October 23, 2013

Emotions ran high Wednesday night at University Library as the John Evans Study Committee held an open forum to give an update on its research, answer questions and take suggestions from the Northwestern community.

Provost Dan Linzer formed a study committee last year to investigate the role University founder John Evans played in the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre and whether NU benefitted financially from Evans' actions. The massacre resulted in the death of more than 100 Cheyenne and Arapaho people in the Colorado Territory during Evans' time as governor. The committee, which is led by English and history Prof. Carl Smith, includes three additional NU faculty and four professors from other universities.

Heather Menefee, co-president of the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance, said the environment at the event, which was attended by about 80 people, felt tense.
"It wasn’t helped by people raising their voices and committee members raising their voices and cutting people off and getting angry or defensive, but I think overall I guess it’s successful in that so many people showed up," the Weinberg junior said.
Although the committee was created following a community petition, some students, faculty and alumni have said they are disappointed with the narrow focus of the study. Menefee said the focus is "pretty self-serving on the part of the University."

"Having a committee with a narrow focus on John Evans is in some ways a privilege that the University can afford, but it continues the erasure of indigenous people and their voices in a story about them," she said. "If Northwestern was serious about native studies, this would be the time to start really thinking about that, but instead if this committee comes out and says that they can't find a direct order that John Evans ordered the massacre, it seems like a lot of these contemporary issues are going to be pushed aside."

Megan Bang (SESP '08) attended the event because she said she has been thinking about the underrepresentation of Native Americans at NU since she was a student here half a decade ago.

"I would like the question about what is Northwestern's relationship and responsibility to Native American peoples to be a more central question," she said. "It's admissions. It's intellectual space in the University, as well. It's not just an affirmative action kind of thing. It's not just a representational kind of thing."

Bang added that she would like to see representatives from the Cheyenne and Arapaho communities represented on the committee.

Although many audience members expressed disappointment regarding the lack of effort demonstrated by the University to reconcile Evans' involvement in the Massacre, history Prof. Peter Hayes, a member of the committee, said Evans' role, if he had any, is still unclear.

"We don't know John Evans was involved in the Sand Creek Massacre," he said. "If we knew John Evans gave the orders for the Sand Creek Massacre, this job would be easy. All of the evidence is circumstantial."

Smith said the event was exactly what the committee wanted: an opportunity to share its findings and receive feedback. He said he was not surprised by the environment.

"It is so deeply charged as a historical and political and personal event that it would be surprising for me if people did not have this deep and sincere feeling," he said after the event. "It has been in many ways a wrong that has been unresolved for now almost 150 years, and it did irreversible damage to a significant number of people."
Feinberg and religious studies Prof. Laurie Zoloth concluded Wednesday's event by thanking the students who first submitted the proposal, calling it "a courageous act."

"I didn't know about Sand Creek, and I'm ashamed of that," she said. "You have already done a enormous amount for this campus, one of them being the education of many faculty."

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Guest Column: Sand Creek Massacre a moral stain on Northwestern's past
GARY FINE, ADAM MENDEL, HEATHER MENEFEE, FORREST BRUCE, AND WILSON SMITH
January 23, 2013

Each year on Jan. 28, Northwestern University gathers to honor its founders. On that date in 1851, the Illinois Legislature approved Northwestern’s Act of Incorporation. Soon it will be Founders’ Day 2013, and we will celebrate with cake and self-congratulations.

Despite these festivities, Northwestern has a shameful past for which it must atone. In order to grow, institutions must remember their past, but this University has chosen amnesia. We must not forget that John Evans, the man who established this University and served as the chair of the Board of Trustees, was morally and politically culpable for one of the most despicable acts of genocide in American history: the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre.

In 1862, President Lincoln appointed Evans the territorial governor of Colorado, a land in which white settlers were intent on conquering native lands for their own benefit. Evans, a railroad magnate, was one of those who believed the “Indian problem” could be solved through violence. He wrote a proclamation declaring that “all hostile Indians would be pursued and destroyed,” claiming that “most of the Indian tribes of the plains are at war and hostile to the whites,” and authorizing all citizens “to kill and destroy, as enemies of the country, wherever they may be found, all such hostile Indians”.

The native peoples – the Cheyenne and the Arapahoe – were camped at Sand Creek under an American flag and had been promised peace; they hoped to negotiate with the white settlers under their leader, Black Kettle. Evans, on the other hand, allowed his military commander, John Chivington, to accomplish their aims by means of a massacre of the Native peoples. The details are gruesome. John Smith subsequently told Congress, “I saw the bodies of those lying there cut all to pieces, worse mutilated than any I have ever saw before; the women cut all to pieces ... With knives; scalped; their brains knocked out; children two or three months old ... By whom were they mutilated? By the United States troops.” Estimates placed the number killed in the hundreds, mostly women and children. The crime was so obviously deplorable that Congress held hearings, and President Andrew Johnson removed Evans from office for covering up the massacre and decorating Chivington and his soldiers.

However, this story is truly about Northwestern University. After being indicted and removed from office, John Evans was welcomed back as the chair of our Board of Trustees throughout his life. This act of extermination, benefiting Evans’ railroad interests, built this University. After the massacre and because of Evans’ declaration that all Indians be considered hostile — and all peaceful Indians demonstrate this by relocating to camps under U.S. observation — Indian land in the Colorado Territory was opened to the railroads and sold to white settlers. Throughout his life John Evans remained our chief benefactor, making this University one that was built on the blood of native peoples.

On this 162nd Founders’ Day, we call upon President Morton Schapiro to establish a Commission on Truth and Justice that will have as its task the unearthing of the history of the Sand Creek Massacre and the extent of this University’s benefit from John Evans. This commission must be composed of administrators, trustees, faculty, students, alumni, and, crucially, representatives of affected native and indigenous communities. We demand a full accounting without fear and without deception. With this detailed historical record, we then call upon the president and the Board of Trustees to take steps to remember our history and to ensure that the University is committed to justice, through memorials, commemorations, lectures, scholarships, and support of the affected community. We do not prejudge the outcome but insist on an open and generous process.

In 2003, Brown University was faced with the recognition that parts of its campus were built through their founder’s connection with the slave trade. The investigation, sponsored by President Ruth Simmons, agonizing though it was, did not weaken Brown but made it stronger and more inclusive. Knowledge, even painful knowledge, frees us as scholars and as students and will guide us in the development of a more ethical community.

With respect, with dignity, and with determination, we call on President Schapiro to announce this commission on Founders’ Day. This is the moment for Northwestern to confront its past. It’s about time.

Gary Fine, sociology professor
Adam Mendel, Weinberg senior
Heather Menefee, Weinberg sophomore
Forrest Bruce, SESP freshman
Wilson Smith, Bienen and Weinberg freshman

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