Tomorrow at noon (till 8) the Native American students have organized a Pow Wow at DU. This will be good in its own right (indigenous food and dance), but this is also the 150th anniversary both of the founding of the University of Denver and of the Sand Creek massacre.
Colonel John Chivington, chief military officer in Colorado and commander of the slaughter, Governor John Evans, Chivington's ally and the man who paved the way for the killing (it could not have happened without Evans's persistent actions from fall, 1863 on, and Walter Newton Byers, publisher and editor of the Rocky Mountain News which instantly proclaimed the massacre "the greatest victory in the history of Indian wars" (it was more ferocious and despicable - these Cheyennes and Arapahos had sought persistently to make peace with the United States and were "in the power of the US army" as an 1865 Joint Congressional Hearing avowed - and yet typical of ethnic cleansing across the country from 1638 in Massachusetts - the Pequot Massacre - on) were on the founding Board of the Colorado Seminary. The seminary evolved into the University of Denver and the Iliff School of Theology.
Six descendants of the Cheyennes and Arapahos who were massacred at Sand Creek will be at the Pow wow, and Chancellor Bob Coombe will take part in the blanket ceremony at 1 o'clock. This is part of a long process of recognition and beginning to heal at our University from an awful history (quite typical of American universities both in slaveholding and the murder of indigenous people - see Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony & Ivy, 2013, on the Ivy League colleges and William and Mary...).
The University administration has taken unusual steps to recognize this history, and this is an important one.
A previous event this January on lacrosse as a sacred sport united the coaches and players at DU, the indigenous students, and the committee working on Evans and DU for a film showing and discussion of the Medicine Game. Some three hundred fifty people came out on a freezing night. See here. There is now some interplay of the indigenous origins in this sport and indigenous players and coaches - long horribly excluded from a "white" sports activity - and other players. There are novel aspects to this process, and in answer to an ignorant comment, revealing what I call a founding amnesia about ethnic cleansing, Mark Kiszla, below, wrote an unusual column in the Denver Post Friday which touches on some of them.
"DU lacrosse star Zach Miller's grandfather embodies family, tradition
By Mark Kiszla
The Denver Post
POSTED: 05/16/2014 12:01:00
Love is the sound of the engine cranking in a gray Ford pickup truck. The man behind the wheel is 65 years old. Brian Miller drives more than 1,500 miles, from the Allegany Reservation in New York to the University of Denver, to watch his grandson play lacrosse. He drives alone. It gives him time to think.
"Lacrosse is special to my people," says Miller, a member of the Seneca Nation. "Lacrosse is the creator's game. So it's very special to us."
From sunrise to sundown, Miller drives with straight-arrow purpose. His creator rides shotgun. As the trusty Ford F-150 slowly outruns Lake Erie, then ducks under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, waves at wind turbines standing sentry on the Kansas prairie and finally stops at the front door of the Rocky Mountains, an elderly gentleman sees 21st century America and we begin to see the truth:
This is not a story about lacrosse, but a reminder family, tradition and hugs still matter.
You do not need to know the rules of lacrosse to understand what it means for 19-year-old DU freshman Zach Miller to look up from the field and see his grandfather in the stands at games the Pioneers have played from Chapel Hill, N.C., to Orange County, Calif., during their remarkable 15-2 season.
"Nobody's counted it up, but if you look at the team's schedule and take out a map, you could probably figure out how many miles I've driven," Brian Miller says. "I don't miss a game."
The odometer on his pickup truck is closing in on 100,000. By conservative estimate, at least 15 percent of the mileage has been recorded in 2014, during a lacrosse pilgrimage from the heart. What moves Brian Miller to drive so far, so relentlessly and so faithfully?
According to lore of the Iroquois Nations, lacrosse is a gift from the creator as a medicine game to heal the people. The sport's documented history dates to American Indians in the 1600s. Zach Miller began playing lacrosse at age 3 on a reservation in upstate New York. It took him to college halfway across the country. Back home, on any given night, his grandfather can watch children sweeping lacrosse sticks like scythes to win the ball.
For the photo, see here.
University of Denver freshman lacrosse player Zach Miller (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)
"The Native American kids play lacrosse for a bigger reason than a lot of people do," Pioneers coach Bill Tierney says. When Zach Miller graduates from DU in 2017, Tierney insists it will be the best story of his storied coaching career.
What Mike Krzyzewski is to college basketball, Tierney is to lacrosse. He's the gold standard. Before taking the job on lacrosse's western frontier in 2009, Tierney won six NCAA championships at Princeton.
So are we really to believe Zach Miller can be his crowning glory as a coach?
"We all want to win. Any coach who says he does it only for the love of the game is full of baloney," says Tierney, who has won big for three decades.
"When you get to my stage in the coaching journey, you realize those wins are really important to the young men who play the game, and I coach them as hard as I did 20 years ago, but you also start to have some perspective about the meaning of this game. I've never had a Native American play for me. Zach Miller brings such meaning to the game, it makes you think. He's using lacrosse to get his education, to help his family, to help his reservation and to help his people. If his goals are so big, then my goals have to match his ambition."
On a blustery spring Saturday afternoon, the Pioneers blow open their NCAA Tournament matchup against North Carolina when Zach Miller scores twice on booming left-handed shots almost as loud as the sound of nearly 3,000 jaws dropping throughout Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium. Later, in the half light of dusk, the freshman star can be found standing in his uniform a full hour after the game, as he quietly chats with his grandfather outside the locker room.
What does it mean to catch the eye of a family member who drives across three time zones and eight states to watch him play?
"It's crazy to think about. It shows how proud he is. It shows how much family matters," Zach Miller says. "My grandfather tells me he prefers driving over flying. But all the way across the country and back? Now, that's crazy."
A pickup truck can haul two tons of love.
After publishing a column saluting the 9-5 victory that sends the Pioneers to an Elite Eight date against Drexel, however, an electronic message from a DU alum drops with a thud in my e-mail box.
"I personally think it's nice the rich, white kids don't have the pressure of making the baseball or football team any longer, but lacrosse becoming a cool thing? Come on," writes the alum, who seems to think any sport that requires a ball to be whacked with a stick belongs next to golf on the country club buffet line.
Well, here's my humble suggestion: Put your cynic's heart in a box, jump in the pickup truck of 65-year-old Brian Miller and let him take you for a drive on a lacrosse tour across America. Like a family hug, the good stuff of his creator's game can warm the soul. There's something to love in every mile of highway, if you're willing to open your eyes.
The road goes on forever, and the opportunities are endless."