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Colorado Governor Rescinds A Piece Of Anti-Native American Language From State Law

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Native American leaders say Colorado's government has taken a big step towards healing with them. Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order rescinding language that was used to justify one of the worst massacres in U.S. history. Colorado Public Radio's Paolo Zialcita reports.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing in non-English language).

PAOLO ZIALCITA, BYLINE: Polis signed the order at a ceremony outside the state capitol. It officially repeals proclamations made by territorial Governor John Evans in 1864 requiring Native Americans to gather in camps and calling for citizens to kill anyone who didn't comply. That order incited what became known as the Sand Creek Massacre, in which at least 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho people were killed by government troops. Most were women, children and elders.

RICK WILLIAMS: I'm sad about the people that lost their lives because of this, but I'm also glad that it's over with. And we're going to start healing.

ZIALCITA: Rick Williams, who is Lakota and Cheyenne, has been advocating for the formal repeal of the old proclamations for years. He says the state's actions were long overdue.

WILLIAMS: The healing process starts by the government being more responsible.

ZIALCITA: It's been a momentous year for indigenous Americans in Colorado, which passed laws banning offensive Native American mascots and giving indigenous people in-state tuition. But tribal leaders say the state still needs to make good on its promise to rename geographic landmarks named after figures like Evans, who used their power to oppress native people. Reggie Wassana, governor of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes in Oklahoma, says change is considerably easier these days thanks to a wider awareness of issues they face.

REGGIE WASSANA: They've become more knowledgeable. And with that, they want to correct some of the wrongs that happened, although you can't change time or history, you can only try to make amends for it.

ZIALCITA: Colorado formally apologized for the Sand Creek Massacre in 2014, on its 150th anniversary. A memorial to its victims is under consideration at the state capitol.

For NPR News, I'm Paolo Zialcita in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIASMOS' "LOOPED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.