July 22, 2024

Skiing, hiking, and other outdoor recreational pastimes have given Colorado a woodsy — and environmentally friendly — reputation. This image is at odds with the state’s first and largest industry: mineral extraction. From 1858 to 2022, mineral extraction in Colorado amounted to a $546 billion dollar industry. The state remains one of the leaders in coal and gold, but the state is also home to oil, natural gas, limestone and helium mining.

In contrast to the carefree spirit of those outdoor activities for which the state is known, the growth of mining and the development of its extraction practices all have their origins in the genocide and forced displacement of indigenous peoples in the region. A new report by a nonprofit organization called People of the Sacred Land, traces the history of how state and federal officials have “systematically undermined tribal sovereignty and indigenous self-governance through tactics such as genocide and illegal land dispossession to exploit the wealth and resources of Tribal Nations.” The report, which stems from a two-year study, also argues that tribes like the Arapaho and Cheyenne never gave up their mineral rights in Colorado and are entitled to compensation commensurate with how much land was stolen.

Rick Williams, who is Lakota and Cheyenne, is the executive director of People of the Sacred Land, and he said the report shows how the history of indigenous people in Colorado has not been adequately understood. The three-part report is an attempt to correct the insufficient awareness and education. The second part of the report is a historical economic loss assessment, which provides a quantitative account of the economic impact that American expansion into the area had on the indigenous tribes.

“It has everything to do with the people who are alive today, because it is those people who benefit from the wealth of the land, the resources of the land, the water, the oil, the gas, the gold,” he said. .

Colorado made $1.9 trillion dollars from these expropriated lands, which includes income from recreation, timber, mineral extraction and real estate. The TREC Commission thinks there should be some recognition and compensation to tribes for land rights they never agreed to give up.

Beginning in the late 18th century, a series of laws established that settlers could not buy land in the Colorado Territory, but many settlers did so anyway, buying land from territorial governments and effectively excluding the tribes from the process. The report names Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and Pueblo as illegally settled on unceded Native lands. The United States was supposed to protect land belonging to tribes, but as settlers were drawn to the area by the gold rush, the United States failed to protect the land and eventually stopped trying, according to the report.

In the mid-1800s, tribes were often removed from their land under threat of violence, or forced to sign treaties under duress to make room for more settlers, interested in the newly formed Colorado Territory. But the tribes were never fairly compensated.

Even if one were to accept the letter of such treaties, mineral rights are often not specified as part of what the tribes cede. Therefore, the commission argues, if a tribe has not specifically relinquished its mineral rights, then the right remains with the tribes even after all these years in colonization. Furthermore, the TERC report argues that the financial injuries borne by the region’s tribes must be recalculated.

“Since most contracts recognized mineral and water rights, unless specifically stated, they were not ceded,” said Dallin Maybee, who is Northern Arapaho and a lawyer and commissioner on the report. “It is no secret that the wealth of the country was built on the back of natural resources that were extracted from indigenous lands and that were diminished as westward expansion took place.”

Responding to the report’s findings, Colorado Department of Natural Resources Chris Arend said, “The State of Colorado is committed to working with tribal nations to protect their lands, and to further engage with tribal governments on these comprehensive issues. consult.”

Colorado’s long history of mining has contributed to deforestation and water and air pollution. “Mining is an inherently destructive and invasive process, and it continues to affect the surrounding land, water, atmosphere, flora and fauna long after sites have been abandoned.” the report said. Even disused mines still pose a danger to the environment. Currently there is 23,000 abandoned mines which impairs the water quality of streams in Colorado.

Clint Carroll, who is Cherokee, is an environmental researcher and professor of indigenous studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. He says the report outlines steps Colorado and these settler communities can take to help Native communities today.

“If you can’t name it and point to it in this way, decolonization becomes somewhat of a utopian dream,” he says. He mentioned that he plans to assign readings from the TREC report in his Indigenous Environmental Issues course. “People are missing a big part of the picture. And it’s a document that helps pave the way for non-native people to understand.”

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