Boy, was I ever wrong the past 834,423 times I said, “this was the wildest thing I’ve ever seen in Aurora.”
Monday night offered up the freakiest show on Colorado’s showiest city council — so far.
On what looked to be a relative yawner for a group that makes the Denver School Board look like a Microsoft Board Meeting, some fresh hell broke loose during a study session when the topic of land acknowledgment came up.
Land acknowledgments have been around since I was sporting bell-bottom corduroys in the 1970s.
It’s a public acknowledgment that land or labor or something of value can and should be attributed to someone, often who never gave it up willingly.
In Aurora’s case, the proposal was to acknowledge that the Colorado and Aurora land we all enjoy, sell, exploit, plant and build roads on wasn’t given to us or purchased. European invaders stole it in small pieces and huge land grabs from the indigenous people who had lived here for thousands of years, even before “Columbus sailed the ocean blue…”
The proposal was to publicly acknowledge that neither we, the French, the British, nor the Spanish were here first. And that those who were here had very different lives than the ones they were forced into after Europeans invaded the entire continent.
Denver does it. The Auraria Campus does it. Hundreds of governments here, and around the world, do it. It’s not to impose guilt, shame or blame, but simply to observe the truth in hopes of increasing our understanding of our shared, real history and the real results of that.
In the world of controversial, hyperpartisan, bulging-carotid-artery melees that bump headlines all day long, these acknowledgements have become as contentious as mandates to shovel your sidewalk after it snows.
With pro sports teams and even Colorado schools acknowledging the sick cruelty of imposing mascots like “redskins” and “savages,” also acknowledging the victims’ stolen culture is not a bad idea.
Not, however, in Aurora.
Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky couldn’t seem to gush adequate aspersions fast enough on offering an Aurora land acknowledgement.
“I can’t even believe this is coming to city council,” Jurinsky said. “The only way that I would support this is if we also acknowledged that this is actually God’s country. I am adamantly against this.”
Tonight, Aurora’s council considered adopting a land acknowledgement — a statement read before events and meetings recognizing how the land that Aurora sits on today was seized from Native Americans.
That went… about as well as you’d expect…
“This is God’s country!” pic.twitter.com/IkLfdbjZTs
— Max Levy (@maxamillianlevy) August 16, 2022
She continued that God was the rightful landlord. She didn’t say, however, whether that should be her god, the gods of the indigenous citizens that European settlers took the land from, or the gods of the Chinese and Black people some of of those settlers kidnapped and enslaved to build railroads and do stuff for free.
Jurinsky wasn’t alone in seeing nothing but oh-hell-no in acknowledging Aurora’s past and the past of those who were forced from their homes.
Councilperson Angela Lawson questioned the wisdom of acknowledging Native Americans for being ousted when she felt that “the land has been conquered from all racial groups.”
She said she saw that as being divisive.
It’s unclear what definition of “indigenous” she thinks describes the nations and tribes that existed in the Colorado region for longer than 20,000 years. Their survivors, and every expert I’ve encountered, has been clear that nobody told any invading Europeans, “Go ahead. Take over everything and force us into squalid pockets of property.”
Councilmember Francoise Bergan capped the high-level discussion by sneering at the idea for two reasons. She didn’t like the idea that Aurora would be expected to trot out this land acknowledgment thing at select city council meetings and big public events.
“Why would we do this more than one time?” she asked.
Her biggest beef, however, was the wording of the acknowledgement, which, like hundreds of others like it used by hundreds of other organizations, acknowledged that this land was “stolen” from its original citizens.
“I can’t support this,” she said.
Indigenous nation leaders and credible historians all agree, however, European invaders didn’t borrow, buy or beg the land. They stole it and forced their victims to suffer one of the cruelest, racial calamities in human history.
Not so long ago, Colorado “natives” outright looted the property of hundreds of thousands of original Americans, murdered them a few at a time and also en masse during the Sand Creek Massacre.
Not only did white invaders steal the land of numerous indigenous nations, the cruelest of the white masters then kidnapped the children of their victims and forced them into “schools.” There, they were indoctrinated, sexually and physically abused, and even murdered.
Acknowledging the history of Colorado and the West makes the notion seem pretty tame compared to the credible criticism of the practice as disingenuous exchange for reparations.
Despite what you or your grandparents learned in school about our benevolent American history, what happened here in Colorado and across the continent was little different than what Russia is doing to Ukraine right now.
Acknowledging reality isn’t a divisive or harmful thing for a community and its society. It’s like growing up, which is something that seems to regularly evade this city council.